Helping Children Deal with the Death of a Loved One

Resources and advice from PSP members on helping children cope with the death of a loved one.

For more, reference our page on Explaining Death to Children and PSP member recommendations for Grief Counselors.


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PSP members' advice on dealing with the death of a grandparent


Original poster:

"My almost 3-year-old son has begun to ask questions about his grandfather - my father - who died just about 3 years ago – right before he was born. We have many pictures of my dad (along with the rest of our family members) around my apartment and I am at a loss as how to explain why he doesn't come to visit us. Does anyone have any advice? This is still a little raw for my family so I'm trying to explain it quickly and gently without getting too emotional."



"My son was just 4 1/2 in September of 2001. He asked a lot of very difficult questions, but he truly understood what was going on, and he was personally touched by the events. He has since lost three grandparents to cancer, as well as several beloved pets.

I suggest that you answer your child's questions honestly, but in terms that he can understand. Be sure NOT to spare him your feelings: if it is hard for you to talk about it, let him know, and let him know why. This is probably the most important life lesson that your child can learn.
I was extremely close with my grandmother, who died suddenly two days before my son was born (her first great-grandchild). I regularly share my memories of her with him (11 years later, it's still very emotional for me), and he knows that she was special to me. (He's got her exact hazel-gray eyes!)
Sharing is good. Stories, hugs -- it's all good."


More advice from November 2022 on preparing for a grandparent's death:

"As far as speaking to young children, I would recommend reading a children's book together as a way to bridge the conversation around these difficult topics of death, loss, and cancer. I've heard good things about The Goodbye Book. Maybe peruse Amazon for a few children's books that might facilitate the conversation? ... We, as adults, often project our anxieties and anticipatory grief on children who can be often very capable and resilient. I think talking about these changes openly also reduces overall anxiety because there's much less confusion for young children about what's going on."

"We just had a major family loss. My family member was advanced in age and I feel like it was very helpful to have been talking about it for a long while. So the sooner the better, and the more honest the better…to a point. One thing I reinforced, as per child expert advice, is that mom and dad would still be with them and would not die. It seemed to be very reassuring to my kids, even though of course we can’t predict our own demise. They don’t need to know that. They need reassurance and to not be up worrying about us. Hope this helps."

"One thing I’ve learned from working with kids is that as you explain, you want to be sure they understand this is a different kind of sick than they get. I’ve had students suddenly terrified when they get a cold because a parent was explaining a relative passing away from being sick and they related it to their own illness and were convinced they were going to die from their cold."

"We lost my mom when my daughter was 3, so she was still very young. We love the book The Invisible String. When I get sad, my daughter still tells me that my mom is 'always with you, in your heart.' We also analogized to flowers and plants, trying to explain that all things are born, grow, and die, and that’s part of the cycle of life."


PSP members' advice for a parent looking to support her young niece and nephew after the death of their father


"Try to keep things as normal as possible, keep positive but not overly or fake."


"They should be allowed to express exactly they are thinking/ feeling even if it is hard to hear or appears not to make sense. Having a clear understanding of what they believe will be very helpful- both are still young enough to have magical thinking & may have some very distorted beliefs about their fathers death (that they could have caused it by being bad, that death isn't permanent, that daddy is a ghost, etc). Children are naturally self-centered & they very often believe that their actions caused deaths. It's important to give them space to express their thoughts fully. Then adults can help provide accurate truthful age-appropriate info for them (they did not cause the death, daddy will be in our memories but we won't see him again).

Children often have trouble naming /describing feelings which can feel overwhelming. Helping them put words to what they feel can be helpful- naming physical sensations & linking them to emotions (feeling a knot in stomach or heart or crying = how your body you that you are feeling sad)."


"Whether or not the kids should attend the funeral is always a big question (and is something Park Slope Parents talks about in more detail HERE). Giving them some say in the decision can be helpful (unless open casket which may be too stimulating). Also thinking about what their mom will need during the funeral- she may be too distraught to care for them or provide comfort.

As this awful acute period passes, it will be important to maintain positive memories of dad."


"Watch them play, join in playtime. When a serious question comes up, you can say something like 'everything will be okay,' mommy and brother/sister will all be okay, you will feel better. Smiles, hugs, favorite characters help!"


"At that age, it is important to let the kids know that they can ask you questions about what happened, and that you can answer them honestly (without being too grisly). Hospitals also employ family social workers, which may still be available to talk to the kids or provide community resources that are available to your sister's family. I would also recommend some counseling sessions with a grief counselor geared towards children, either short term for now to help them understand, or longer term if necessary. I think for your visit, just be available. Check with your sister about how much she wants to reveal, and be honest with the kids. They may want to talk about it or they may just want to be normal. Let them know its ok to just be normal, and have fun and play if they want to, and that it doesn't mean that they don't love their dad. Maybe take them out of the house and do something normal so that they have a sense of still being kids."


"I would follow your sister's lead and support her so she can support them. It may be too early for a grief counselor but they can be good and often hospices etc have counsellors that can deal with various circumstances so can be a good place to start if having trouble."


"Grief shows up in a lot of ways, and your being there to hold a space for them to freak out or just cry is the best thing you can do. It will be a long healing process for the whole family. You will know what to do if you just trust that it's more of a place of honoring grief than doing anything else. A lot of people freeze up and think they have to do something concrete. But I have learned from my own experiences that presence and love and acceptance is the thing that the little guys remember the best. And what is most important is the weeks and months after the funeral that matter the most. The concept of just moving on is the most misunderstood isn't like that at all. Grief has its own way.

Finally, this website talks about The Healing Process With Children."


"One thing I thought was helpful was age appropriate kids books talking about people leaving, loss and even death itself. Read them to them. and dont worry about having too many. they will pick the ones they respond too. another thing I was counciled to do was to make a memory book about him. You could have each kid do their own, and include photo copied pictures and everything, if you dont have time to finish it, that might be a family project for your sister if she is up to it. It gives a lot of time for all involved to talk about how they are feeling and share it with someone, not keep it inside. I think that is really the most important element."


Resources for kids who have experienced the death of a loved one


A Caring Hand
213 East 63rd Street
New York, NY 10001
(212) 229-CARE (2273) 

"The mission of ACH is to meet bereaved children and families wherever they are in their grief and fulfill their needs in a caring and knowledgeable environment through services to help them with their emotional journey and financial assistance to aid their future education."


Loss and Bereavement Program for Children and Adolescents
Jewish Board of Family & Children Services

120 W 57th Street, 9th floor
New York, NY 10019
(212) 632-4692

"Provides bereavement groups designed to help children and adolescents cope with the death of a parent or caretaker. These groups are held at JBFCS sites throughout the city. Individual and group counseling are also available for surviving caretakers."


Hearts Connected

Hearts Connected provides mental health support to kids, teens, and their families.


Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

MSK has a page on Preparing Your Child for a Parent’s Death that includes general advice as well as resources, websites, and books to help kids understand and cope with death.


Good Grief

Good Grief, an NJ-based not-for-profit, has an extensive resources page that includes a PDF about how children understand grief at different ages; book recommendations geared toward helping kids; and tips for navigating grief in various settings and situations.


Red Door Community (formerly Gilda's Club NYC)

Red Door Community provides support groups for those who have lost a loved one to cancer:

Young Adults Bereavement Monthly Group

Living with Loss

Visiting Nurse Service Bereavement Support Groups - Virtual (must have a family member who received VNS services)


Greenwich House

Greenwich House offers Journeying Through Bereavement: a group for individuals to explore the impact of the loss of a loved one in a safe space, providing comfort, insight, and healing from grief.


MJHS Bereavement Group

A virtual support group for those with a family member who received care in the MJHS health system.


NYC Employee Assistance

Employees of the City of New York can attend the virtual Grief and Loss Support Group.


NYU Langone Support Groups

NYU's Spiritual Care Services staff provides virtual webinars on relevant topics as well as bereavement groups for our community. For more information, please call 516-663-4749 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Help us help others! If you have first-hand experience of additional resources and organizations to add to this page, please email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..