Children and Grief: How to Support Your Child

January 15, 2021 Ailish Mackey, Oncology Social Work Intern

The grieving process looks different for everyone, especially in a child. Grief involves an array of different emotions that are experienced over time, experiencing these emotions is an important part of coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. With children, they will often feel sad or show similar emotions for a short period of time, and then move on to their normal day-to-day activities. To an adult this might look like the child has moved on from the grieving process, but it is not as simple as it looks. Children grieve in spurts and their grieving process can last for years after their loved one has passed. It is important to allow children to grieve and support them through this process because their future mental health is dependent on their experience with all aspects of grief.


How to Help

  • Keep checking in with your child.
  • It is important for your child to know that you are there for them, consistent check-ins are a helpful way to show that.
  • Open and honest communication.
  • Listen to your child's concerns and answer any questions they may have.
  • Car rides are a great place to have these conversations because you do not have to look at each other which can make it easier on both of you.
  • Taking care of yourself.
  • In order to help your child through their grieving process you need to help yourself through yours. Reach out for support when you need it, you are not alone.


Sometimes a child will experience complicated grief which lasts longer and has a bigger impact on their life than typical grief. Complicated grief is not healthy and sometimes does not show signs until months or even years after their loved one has passed. It is important to look out for these signs and reach out for extra help. Your child's school counselor, pediatrician, or social worker from where your loved one was treated, are some professionals that can help you and your child.


When to Seek Help        

  • Talks about feeling angry or sad all the time
  • Sudden mood changes (consistently)
  • Isolates oneself
  • Changes in appetite & energy
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Talks of self-harm or suicidal thoughts - It is important to seek immediate help if your child mentions either of these.



Swedish Cancer Institute

Swedish Cancer Institute offers bereavement support that ranges from ongoing support to education regarding grief and loss of life. These services are normally offered at Edmonds, Seattle and Issaquah locations, but due to COVID, the Edmonds location is offering one-on-one grief support via telephone with trained peer volunteers.

For more information about the groups or to learn more about one-on-one phone support or future online groups, please contact the Bereavement Office at 425-640-4404 or by email


Safe Crossings Children’s Grief Program

Safe crossings is a program for children and teenagers who have lost someone close to them. Their Master’s level counselors provide support for grieving children as well as their families. Safe Crossings offers support in homes, at school and at their office in Tukwila, WA.

For more information

Or call ‪206-749-7723



American Cancer Society. (2014). Grief can look different in a child. Retrieved from:

American Cancer Society. (2014). Helping a child after a parent's death. Retrieved from:

American Cancer Society. (2014). Signs that a child may need extra help after a parent's death. Retrieved from:

Previous Article
Being a Partner to Someone with Cancer
Being a Partner to Someone with Cancer

Next Article
Recipe: Hawaiian Star Soup
Recipe: Hawaiian Star Soup