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Understanding Grief in Children This Holiday Season

An illustration of a broken heart with a bow on it

Ah, November. Thanksgiving week is here. Football season is in full swing. Holiday shopping is ramping up.

But unlike those presents, we can't take grief, put a bow on it, and call it a day.

November is also Children's Grief Awareness Month in the US.

We all know grief is a lifelong journey, but it can feel incredibly daunting during the holidays. We want to acknowledge the challenges many children and families face as they grieve.

The holidays can often amplify emotions. Grieving children may feel a mix of sadness, anger, guilt, and confusion. Contrasting these feelings with a festive atmosphere can be overwhelming.

This is completely normal. And it's also normal to not necessarily know how to help the child.

If you're feeling stuck, consider starting a conversation with them.

Here are a few ideas of conversation starters you can use to allow them to share what they are thinking and feeling:

  • “I wonder...”

  • “What's on your mind?”

  • “Tell me more about...”

  • “I don't know for certain...”

  • “I find myself wondering...”

  • “I don't know what it feels like...and I imagine...”

  • “I notice that...”

Similarly, we know that there are helpful comments you can hold in mind when speaking to grieving children, such as:

  • “I've been thinking of you.”

  • ”You've been on my mind.”

  • ”All of your feelings are okay.”

  • ”Sometimes, you might want to talk about your feelings...and sometimes, you might want to distract yourself and remember that you're a kid. Are you in a talking mood or a playing mood?”

  • ”What are some of your hard days?”

  • ”I want to share a memory I have of your mom. Would that feel okay for you?”

  • ”I don't know what to say...because there are no words.”

  • ”It feels hard because it is hard.”

While people often have the best intentions, they often make various unhelpful statements to grieving children because of their own discomfort. Language matters when speaking to grievers, so please be thoughtful when choosing your words. We encourage you to...

  • NOT use words like "at least" or "just."

  • Avoid platitudes such as "you won't always be so sad," "they're in a better place," or "they wouldn't want you to be so sad."

  • NOT make assumptions about how they're feeling (i.e., "You must be feeling...")

  • NOT center yourself (i.e., "I know how hard this is...")

  • NOT place judgment on their behaviors or feelings (i.e., "Why are you acting out?")

  • NOT assign your own timeline to their grief (i.e., "You should be over this by now.")

Please remember that there is no need to worry that you are reminding someone of their grief by bringing up the deceased loved one in conversation. It can often show a child that you care about their feelings surrounding their loss.

Lastly, a grieving child may struggle with losing rituals during the holidays. Maybe they always helped mom make the pumpkin pie for the Thanksgiving spread. Children often worry their memories of their loved one will fade over time. One tremendous gift you can give to them is to help them remember and capture those memories.

The information above is from our first Grief Guide for a middle-aged child, available for free here.

We would like to encourage you to extend compassion, understanding, and a willingness to listen as we navigate this season together, fostering a community that acknowledges the complexities of grief during Children's Grief Awareness Month and beyond.

For more resources, please click here.

If you would to donate to our cause, you can do so here.

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