Supporting Children Through Grief, Death and Dying

Supporting Children Through Grief, Death and Dying

As an End-of-Life Doula and Grief Companion, my biggest message to everyone is that children grieve, as do adults. The only difference is how they do it. And even more importantly, we need to let them do it.

We often dismiss their grief or hide them from the pain of a death because we think we are protecting them. The issue with that is that they lose a very valuable opportunity to live and grow.

“We know that bereaved children are at risk for being disenfranchised or forgotten mourners.” Dr. Alan Wolfelt - Founder of the Center for Loss and Life Transition.

Understanding the signs of grief for children is very important. Their behaviors may change, and it is important to understand those signs so that you can support them through their grief. Their grief and their reaction will depend on the child and the developmental and communication level of both the parent or caregiver and child.

“For adults, grief is like wading through this enormous river whereas for children, it's puddle jumping, but when they’re in that puddle it is no different to the river”. Julie Stokes- Founder of Winston’s Wish.

Puddle jumping is a great example of how children grieve. One minute they are enjoying themselves while playing and the next minute they are upset over the loss of their loved one. This concept of jumping in and out of grief, like a puddle,  can carry on for some time while the child processes the death. Each puddle holds a different feeling for them to process and they take their time doing it. It is also common for children to ask the same question multiple times. This is not because they have forgotten the answer, it is because they are doing their best to understand death and their grief in their own way.

As children work through their grief, parents and caregivers may notice some unusual behaviors, some of which may include: acting out or completely withdrawing, seeking attention, anger and frustration, reverting back to past behaviors such as bedwetting or asking for a soother, sudden fears around day-to-day activities or even around death of loved ones, are a few examples.


It is very important that as parents or caregivers, that we take time to acknowledge this behavior on a neutral level and give a safe space for our children to express themselves. We are always inclined to fix the issues and make our child feel better. Unfortunately, there isn't anything to fix when someone is experiencing grief. Dismissing their grief or not providing a safe space for their grief can lead to more behavioral issues that would need to be worked through in addition to what the child is already experiencing.


We often forget that grief can also be associated with the loss experienced through divorce, moving family homes or even to a new school, the loss of social events or programs related to unforeseen closures, and even toys that get lost or discarded are a few examples. Life throws us curves that we may not be ready for and for a child those curves can be quite substantial even if as a parent or caregiver, we do not think they are.

Children are the foundation of our work in creating a healthy relationship with grief, death and dying. That healthy relationship carries them through their life into their adult years. Lack of that relationship can create some risk around behavior issues, addiction, mental health and so much more.

“The greatest gift you can give your children is not protection from change, loss, pain or stress, but the confidence and tools to cope and grow withal that life has to offer them” – Dr. Wendy S. Harpham, M.D.

Using resources such as books, games and even movies can help not only the child but the parent or caregiver to move through the grief that they are experiencing.

Recommended books for children:

*The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages - Leo Buscaglia

*The invisible String - Patrice Karst

*The Goodbye Book- Todd Parr

*Tear Soup - Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen

Most of these books can also be found on YouTube and can be pre-read to ensure that they will suit your child's needs. 

There is a wealth of information at our fingertips to support our children and most often it all becomes very overwhelming while even as a parent and a caregiver are in the midst of their own grief.

“What do I tell the kids? How do I support them? is a free online resource that helps parents support their children when someone in their life is dying or has died. It equips parents with the words and confidence needed to help children grieve life’s losses in healthy ways” - Canadian Virtual Hospice

Another important reminder for the parents and caregivers that are supporting children is to make sure that as an adult, you are getting the support you need as well. As a flight attendant would announce on take off “Please put your mask on before putting the mask on of your children”. Should you not have that support yourself, it may be difficult for you to support your child.

Grief, death and dying is not easy to manage at the best of times for ourselves but it is so important that we allow that safe and loving space for our children, so we reduce the risk of being disenfranchised or forgotten mourners.


Janine Jordison, End-of-Life Doula and Grief Companion of Ridge Meadows Wellness,  started her career as an end-of-life doula in the fall of 2019. She was moved to focus on education and creating awareness around children’s grief. Having personally been through the lack of support around grief, death and dying as a child, she knew firsthand the importance of this subject for children and what chaos it can create in your adult years. Her greatest lessons in her later years are from experiencing her own grief and allowing herself to do so. It allowed her to create space and resources for parents so that children can be supported and acknowledged during this very vulnerable time. She introduced her very first workshop the spring of 2021 called Precious Little Souls – Supporting Children Through Grief. A Series for Parents and it has been well received. She is currently working as a volunteer educator for the Surrey Hospice Society for the children's module of their volunteer coordinator program. She is also currently serving on the board as Secretary for the End-of-Life Doula Association of Canada.


Supporting Children Through Grief, Death and Dying

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