Helping Children Process Grief

The Memory Box: A Book About Grief explores two questions that help us understand how children deal with grief:

  1. Will I forget my loved one?

When kids experience the death of a loved one, everyday routines, old assumptions, and

expectations for the future are suddenly upended. One of the most profound changes kids face

is the loss of their old identity. When kids worry that they will forget a person, they are also

worrying that they will forget who they were with that person. Mr. Rogers, the beloved children’s

television host, reminded us that when tragedy strikes for kids, the first thing they want to know

is, “How will this affect me?” In Rowland’s book, after the young girl processes her grief, she feels

reassured that she won’t forget. In other words, she’ll be okay. That’s an enormous comfort for

children. One way to help children move through their grief is to talk normally with them about

their loved one. Talking about grief can be hard, but please don’t be afraid to try. Grief becomes

so much more complicated when it’s considered a forbidden topic.

2. What do I do with my feelings?

The little girl in The Memory Box feels sadness, fear, wonder, loneliness, and reassurance as

she walks through her loss. That’s very normal! Younger children might not have the words to

express what they are going through, so they displace their grief feelings into ongoing frustration

and anger. Younger kids tend to be more literal and practical, anxious to figure out what happens

next. Older kids are able to articulate their feelings better, but may be more susceptible to other

feelings related to loss, like fear of losing other loved ones, concern about money, or guilt about

getting on with one’s life. Young or old, grief presents a struggle for all of us – both kids and

adults! We have to simultaneously let go and hold on to someone we loved. It’s really important

to stay in close touch with kids who are grieving, because they are going back and forth between

these two realities–letting go and holding on.

If you know a child who is dealing with loss, here are some ways you can help them process their grief:

• Like the girl in this book, start a box of memories of a lost loved one. A memory box will

help children overcome the fear that they will forget their loved one, and give them a

physical activity to symbolically process their complicated emotions.

• Find support groups for families and kids. It helps kids tremendously to know that others

share their experience!

• If you are religious, ask a leader from your faith tradition to meet with you and the child to

talk about your faith’s beliefs about life and death.

• On the anniversary of your loved one’s death, share your memories with family, friends, or

another community you treasure. Bake a favorite treat that your loved one appreciated and

share music and pictures.

 

To see inside The Memory Box or to purchase, click here.

Mary Lindberg holds a Master of Divinity degree from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California. She has worked with children and families experiencing grief and loss as a hospital chaplain at Lutheran General Hospital and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.