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Skipper L Harvey, PsyD
November 2, 2014

Helping Children Deal With Grief And Loss

As a loving parent, it’s important to realize that all children are unique in their understanding of death and dying. And, more often than not, a child’s reaction to death will be different from that of adults. Children tend to have sporadic moments of intense feelings followed by play and normal activities. In addition, children may not be able to concisely verbalize what they are feeling and instead may act out their feelings through their behavior and play. This may lead to behaviors that are viewed as inappropriate through the eyes of an adult; however, these behaviors are necessary in order for a child to progress through the grieving process.

For a child, death is a new experience with a finality that can often leave them both confused and frightened depending on their level of development and intellectual functioning. Also, children may blame themselves when a tragic event occurs in their life which leads to distortion of an event and a faulty conclusion about the situation. For this reason among many, it’s important to have open communication with your child to ensure that they do not feel blame while also correcting any false ideas and misperceptions that they may have about their loss.

How To Help

Provide unconditional support, guidance, and understanding
• Be truthful with your child at a developmentally appropriate level so as not to create more confusion or misinformation
• Use simple and direct language when speaking about or explaining death
• Encourage your child to talk and ask questions
• Monitor your own emotions in front of your child so they can say what they need to say without feelings they are upsetting their parent or trusted adult
• Allow your child to express their emotions in ways that are best suitable for them (e.g., use of talking, journaling, art, play).

When To Seek Help

Causes for concern include the following:

• Long-term avoidance of the topic or denial
• Continued withdrawal from friends and/or activities once enjoyed
• Loss of interest in school or decline in school performance
• Rejection of support or any source of comfort
• Persistent changes in sleep, appetite, weight
• Frequent statements about wanting to join the deceased that indicate intent to harm oneself
• Extended periods of sadness, guilt, and/or emptiness

It is typically within the first year after a loss when children and teens are at an increased risk for adjustment problems, most likely in the form of depression. However, research finds that most children and teens will adjust emotionally and return to healthy functioning within this one year period. Grief is normal, but if emotional or behavioral problems are extreme, or compromise a child’s ability to function, a consultation with a licensed mental health professional is advised.

Websites For Additional Information

About Dr. Skipper

Dr. Skipper is a Florida Licensed Clinical Psychologist who works extensively with children, adolescents, and families to provide therapy and psychoeducational assessment services.

She received her doctorate degree from the Florida School of Professional Psychology.  Dr. Skipper has worked with children, adolescents, and families in a variety of settings which include mental health clinics, residential settings, drug treatment facilities, and schools.

Through the integration of a variety of empirically-based treatment approaches, Dr. Skipper assists her clients by providing new skills and empowering strategies to build distress tolerance, enhance awareness and communication, facilitate insight, and challenge maladaptive relationship and thinking patterns. She employs an active therapeutic stance to facilitate long-lasting, positive change. 

Dr. Skipper’s background also includes a B.A. in Elementary Education with 11 years of experience in primary education. 


Disclaimer: The above information is not intended to provide professional advice or diagnostic service. If you have any concerns about Grief and Loss or other health issues, please consult a qualified health care professional in your community.