On Your Mind: Helping a child help a grieving friend

My daughter, who is in 2nd grade, has a best friend who just lost her dad in a car accident. Obviously, my daughter’s friend is devastated and my daughter is very upset, too, since she has spent time at their house and also knew the dad. I’m trying to help my daughter learn how to be a good friend to someone who is hurting, but it’s hard even for adults to know what to say or do in these situations. How should I advise my child? Any direction you could give would be helpful.

The death of a loved one can be upsetting for all those involved, children and adults alike. Especially with a tragic death, a range of thoughts and feelings may be experienced upon such unexpected and sad news. Talking about these difficult feelings is important for everyone involved.

Children’s thoughts and feelings about a death need to be acknowledged, expressed, and validated. Young children typically follow the lead of a trusted adult in regards to what to do when a death occurs. Children are great observers and imitators and their concrete and literal thinking can be overwhelming and cause fear.

The need for reassurance that they are safe and that their family is safe after a tragic death or any death is important to minimize their fears. It would help to educate your daughter about what happens when someone dies, ask her about her thoughts and feelings about the death, and answer her questions as honestly and simply as you can.

Offer some suggestions on how she can help her friend at this time (ie., share her thoughts and feelings with her friend in words or make her a card, help cook and bring a meal to her family, and offer a play date to her friend). Allow your daughter some choices about what she may like to do to support her friend and then help her do it.

Times of sadness can be a teachable and learning moment for all involved. An adult who can model “the gift of presence” in listening, caring and sharing with others is teaching the value of empathy – one of the most important parts of being a good friend.

methodist family health logoThis “On Your Mind” segment is provided by Methodist Family Health’s Counseling Clinic, 74 W. Sunbridge Dr., in Fayetteville, where the phone is (479) 582-5565. Methodist Family Health is a nonprofit organization that provides behavioral and mental health services to children under 18 and their families all across in Arkansas. The organization has been serving families and youth for more than 114 years, beginning as an orphanage in 1899. Today, Methodist Family Health has all levels of care, ranging from outpatient counseling clinics to residential treatment centers to an inpatient behavioral hospital and an extensive staff of trained therapists and mental health professionals. To find out more about Methodist Family Health, call 501.661.0720 or 501.866.3388 toll free or visit www.methodistfamily.org.