Helping children with the loss of a loved one can be difficult, because you are often processing your own emotions as well. From my experience as a teacher and from my own personal experiences, I have seen some lovely ways to walk alongside children in times of loss. Below are a few guidelines to consider:
Using picture books to launch conversations.
Often reading about a character's emotions can help your child to share and connect about his own feelings. It serves as a guide for you and prompt for your child. A favorite of mine is City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems. This sweet book shares about loss and friendship. It serves as a nice book to relate to changes that come with loss.
Letting the child choose a special memento.
I still have special "treasures" from loved ones who have passed. If able, let your child choose something that evokes happy memories of the loved one. Having something that is uniquely one's own can be a nice comfort and conversation piece. Don't judge what a child chooses, remember it is for the child, not for you.
Speaking in concrete, age appropriate, yet realistic terms.
In some cases, all the details of a death may not be appropriate to share, but with maturity kids can handle more detail. Being truthful about death is best. Using real, concrete language like, "dead" instead of "passed on, at peace, laid to rest" helps a child to make sense of the situation and does not cause extra fear or confusion.
When my grandpa died, I remember my mom gathering all the grandkids and doing the banana story. She had a nice, yellow banana and a 3 day old banana peel. She explained that our grandpa had died. The real DaddyBill, his soul, was with Jesus (that's like the part of banana you eat). What was left here on earth was just his shell. Just like the old banana peel didn't look like a nice fresh banana, the body of DaddyBill was a few days old and wouldn't look exactly how he did because it was just his shell. I remember this so vividly and it was a great illustration to give truth with an example that helped all ages understand.
Being honest with your own feelings.
It is okay to share with your kids when you are angry because the love one has died, or share a cry together when you hear a song that reminds you of your recent lost. Sharing emotions with children lets them know their feelings are okay and they don't need to hide or suppress them. Experiencing grief and processing loss is not easy, but it is healthy.
Watching for cues and seeking professional support if needed.
Always be willing to seek help of professionals if your child seems to stay depressed or struggle abnormally with loss and death. Often professionals can provide insight and assistance that we can't being so closely involved.