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Helping a Child Navigate Grief

As a Nanny Angel, you are there to create a safe place for bereaved children to explore their feelings, process their grief and help them maintain a healthy connection with the memory of their mom. Here are some tips for you to use and to share with surviving family members.

Answer all their questions. Let them know it’s okay to ask questions – any questions, as many as they want. Younger children are likely to ask the same ones over and over again and it’s important to be patient, and provide clear, consistent answers. If they’re not asking, take the initiative to find out if there’s anything they want to know. Answer their questions honestly, using concrete words like “died” instead of “passed.” If you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say that and wonder together. For example telling the child, “It’s a mystery.”

Listen without judgement. When a child is talking about her feelings, just listen. Don’t jump in with comments, evaluations or solutions. Don’t say “I know just how you feel.” If the child says “I really miss my mom,” you can respond with open-ended questions such as, “What do you miss about her?” This validates their feelings, and gives them a sense that they’re being heard.

Give them choices. A mother’s death represents a huge loss of control – there are so many things happening in children’s lives they can’t choose or change. By involving them and offering them choices whenever possible, it gives them some control. Let them help choose flowers for the funeral or a song for the memorial service. Offer choice in their everyday lives as well – ask if they want to wear the blue pants or the green ones, if they want pasta or tacos for dinner, if they want to celebrate an occasion or not.

Let them know it’s okay to be happy. Children process intense emotions by jumping in and out of them. They need to take breaks from grief. Unlike adults, they can be sad one moment, and happy and playful the next. They shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about behaving this way – reassure them that they are not being disloyal to their mother. Encourage them to spend time with friends and doing things they enjoy.