Bryker Woods Caring Corner

Experiencing Grief and Loss

To our Panthers,

When we experience a death/loss, it can be devastating for all individuals involved. The death of a parent, sibling, or someone close can be crushing for adults, children, teens, and people of all ages. Children experience a range of intense emotions including sadness, anger, fear, confusion, and guilt. They often feel isolated or unable to talk about the death with peers who have not had a similar experience. They also may be reluctant to share their grief with surviving family members for fear of upsetting them. Too often, children and adults end up grieving alone.

We want you to know that you are all valued members of the Bryker Woods community and we are here to support and help guide this difficult time and conversations.


Ms. Muehling, Ms. Murr and Ms. Gee

Your Bryker Woods Student Support Team

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Sometimes people think of grief as being a single emotion... sadness, but it involves all kinds of feelings including worry, anxiety, betrayal, guilt, anger, jealousy and confusion. There are times people even feel shocked, lonely, overwhelmed, and fearful of their families safety due to a big change.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It's important to talk about grief, so you can recognize it when it happens, and so you don't feel helpless when it is happening to you or someone around you. Whether it's yourself or someone you're trying to support, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • One of the most important ways to help is just LISTEN.
  • Be sensitive to wishes for privacy. Do not force them to talk. They will ask when they are ready.
  • Kids who are grieving usually still want to do the "regular stuff" too, like playing, staying involved in teams, groups, and activities. This helps them feel like there is still a sense of normalcy during this tragic time.

Explaining Grief to Children

Explaining Grief to Children

Death From a Child's Point of View

Children are often the forgotten grievers. Children and adults grieve differently. Children grieve more intermittently. Other factors such as personality traits, coping styles, family dynamics, prior mental health and life stressors, and the circumstances of the death impact how a child handles a particular death/loss. Children re-grieve at each developmental stage. What may feel like a step back is part of the process.

SCHOOL AGE (AGES 5-7) Child’s Understanding

• Death is real but won’t happen to them

• Usually able to understand death is final

• Death may be viewed as an actual person, spirit, or being

• Some will develop a preoccupation with “morbid” details

Frequently Observed Behaviors

• Many develop fears (separation, darkness, nightmares, etc.)

• Feeling may be shared or held in

• Coping through the gathering of information

• Regression may occur

• May see changes in behavior with aggression or being withdrawn

What Helps?

• Follow their lead…allow them to talk or not talk when needed

• Answer their questions honestly and concretely…information gives them a sense of control

• Reflect back feelings and give them words to identify their feelings

• Provide expressive and physical activities to release energy

• Consistent routines and schedule provide comforting structure

• Communicate with the school

SCHOOL AGE (AGES 7-11) Child’s Understanding

• Understands death as permanent and irreversible

• May question their own mortality

• May be concerned about what happens after a person dies

Frequently Observed Behaviors

• Feelings may be expressed or held in…often “seem” to be doing well

• May develop a “mask” of uncaring or joking

• Regression still common

• Relationships with friends becoming more important

• May take on the role of the person who died

• May see changes in behavior, mood, grades, and relationships

What Helps?

• Respect their feelings and support their style of coping

• Be available and address concerns they may have on how the death has affected their life

• Do not ask the child to be brave, strong, in control, or responsible for taking care of others

• Answering “I don’t know…what do you think?” when you don’t have the answers

• Provide expressive and physical activities to release energy

• Give opportunities for choices to provide a sense of control

• Continue consistent routines and communication with school

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Common Responses to Grief

While grief is a typical response to the death of a loved one, it sometimes causes reactions that can be unlike your normal behavior. These responses are understandable and do not indicate “insanity.” Pain may surface in the following forms:


  • Shock and disbelief

  • Sadness and yearning

  • Numbness

  • Feeling disorganized or confused

  • Wanting to be alone and yet feeling lonely

  • Resentment towards those who have not

    experienced loss

  • Anxiety, worry and fear

  • Feelings of guilt or sense of failure

  • Helplessness/hopelessness

  • Irritability and anger at:

  • The situation

  • Others

  • Your loved one who died

  • God/your higher power

  • Medical personnel


  • Change in sleep that may include bad dreams/nightmares

  • Change in eating habits

  • Pain with unknown causes – headaches, stomach problems,

    muscle pain, etc.

  • Fatigue/lack of energy


  • Lack of motivation

  • Difficulty concentrating and/or remembering things

  • Crying often

  • Emotional outbursts

  • Isolating self or avoiding others

  • Abusing substances including alcohol, prescription medication, or

    street drugs as a way to cope

  • Unnecessary risk taking

Great Books for Kids

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A Talking Tip

Resist the urge to tell a grieving child that "everything will be okay." Instead, be a heart with ears - without criticism, judgement, or analysis. All you need to do is listen.

  • When a child shares the story about the event or what they're experiencing, help them get this out of their head and into their heart. Do this by assisting them in describing what they're feeling with feeling words. It can also be beneficial for children to draw or write what they are feeling when articulating it is difficult.
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Why Crying Helps

Crying has traditionally held a negative stigma but crying actually has many positive healing benefits. Never apologize for expressing genuine emotions. It actually takes a great deal of strength and courage to stand in the face of uncomfortable situation and show the vulnerable sides of ourselves.

Common Questions Children/Adolescents have when Hearing about Death

What does it mean to be “dead?” Dead means not alive anymore. It means that they stopped breathing because their body doesn’t need to anymore. Their heart stopped beating and their body doesn’t work anymore. They don’t eat or drink. Use your spiritual beliefs to talk about what that may means to you and your family.

Why do things or people die? It is the cycle of life. For example, a leaf will be born on a tree and grow and get big, but in the fall, it may fall off the tree. It stops growing and dies. Just because they are gone, does not mean they are gone from our lives. We will continue to remember them, and do things to remember them by.

Will I die? All living things die, it is the cycle of life. But most people die when they are very old.

Will you die? Yes, but know that many people live for a long time. If I were to die, ___ will care for you.

What happens after you die? No one really knows. I think ____ happens. What do you think?

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Grief is hard work.

The energy required to deal with grief is more than one can ever imagine. It's a difficult task to deal with because grief is one big, ugly knot. It needs to be untangled to understand every kink and curve that exists to essentially work through it.

Figuring out your grief can take time and once you've found your way, you're often hit with random and unexpected waves of grief that catch you off guard. Don't lose your balance and remember to ride out those waves.

Be patient with yourself and give yourself all the time you need to grieve. It's okay to struggle with it because if it were easy, it wouldn't be grief!

For Families, When They Grieve

For Families: When Families Grieve

General Guidelines When Talking to Kids About Grief and Loss

• Speak simply and honestly. Explain clearly that death is the end and the person will not come back.

• Use concrete words like dead, died, or the body stopped working. Avoid the use of metaphors such as, “Daddy went to sleep,” “We lost mom,” “Grandpa passed away,” “Annie went for a long trip,” “He went to sleep.” (When we say they went to sleep, this actually creates the child to be fearful of sleeping. They will begin to think that if they/anyone falls asleep, then they died too).

• Talk about the loss whenever your child brings up the subject. Do not force your child to talk about the death. Children can only process so much information at a time and what they can’t understand now may be brought up later.

• Let their questions lead the discussion. They’ll let you know when they are ready for more.

• Be patient with repeated questions.

• “I don’t know” is an okay answer to your child’s question. Ask them, “What do you think?” to give them permission to express their own thoughts and concerns.

• Don’t assume that children are too young to understand death or be impacted by it.

• Children grieve the secondary losses (different homes, new schools, new routines, etc.) that come with the loss of a loved one. They may seem more focused or upset about these than the death loss.

• Children are quick to blame themselves for the death and can secretly carry this guilt so reassure them they did not cause the death through their thoughts or actions.

• Be honest with your child about who will take care of him or her in the event of your death.

• Let your child know that crying is okay. Don’t be afraid to cry in front of them…it gives your child permission to cry.

• Try to maintain routine, rules and limits in order to provide a sense of security for the child.

• Their world can feel turned upside down so give them lots of choices to feel a sense of control.

• Children are perceiving the emotions around them…label them, describe them, discuss them.

• A grieving child needs to feel secure and taken care of with consistent hugs, kisses, and warmth.

• Help them find ways to express and comfort themselves such as art, reading, writing, music, and physical activities.

• Children grieve more intermittently than adults…one minute they are sad and the next minute they are playing and laughing.

• Children will revisit losses over their lifespan so what can seem like a step back is actually part of the process.

• Help your child recognize their support network so they have multiple people to turn to when in need.

The Memory Box
Elmo and Jessie: The Memory Box

What To Say To A Grieving Person

Sometimes when people are trying to be helpful they are unsure what to say to a grieving person, and end up making a comment that is not helpful. These types of comments can dismiss the emotions associated with grief. It is okay for a grieving person to feel a whole range of emotions, and it is important to acknowledge them. Since each person grieves differently, there is no one right thing to say or do, but consider the following...

I Will Always Love You Read Aloud

I Will Always Love You ~ Children's Book About Death and Grieving

A Permission Slip For Grieving Adults and Children

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In recent months, I have seen a sharp increase in the # of messages and e-mails I receive from parents asking me to recommend books to help children cope.

There are many stories out there which offer great comfort and encourage children to talk about their loss and how it makes them feel, but trying to find the right one for your child when you are dealing with your own grief can feel like an enormous task.

Here is a list of 24 books I would recommend. I hope you find it helpful, and please do share it with friends and family who you think may need it.

Counseling Resources for Grief and Loss

The Christi Center

A nonprofit, free of charge, The Christi Center provides programs and peer support services to children, adults and family members for as long as it is needed. As the only free grief support in the Greater Austin area, we offer a safe place to grieve and heal. Adults. Youths. Groups.

Austin Grief

Offering therapy resources and support for those grieving the death of a loved one from illness, accident, suicide, or violence; divorce or separation.

Austin Center for Grief and Loss*
2413 Greenlawn Parkway
Austin, TX 78757
The Austin Center for Grief and Loss provides grief and trauma services to adults and children (3-17). Support groups for children who have experienced the death of a loved one are ongoing and meet twice monthly in the evening. Children's groups are divided by age in order to provide developmentally appropriate materials. Adult groups meet concurrently with the children's groups and are divided by the relationship of the loss. All new group members must participate in an orientation/intake session prior to attending their first group session. Grief and trauma therapy is also offered for individuals and families on a fee basis. Workshops, seminars, and retreats are offered for parents, leaders of faith-based groups, educational personnel, and professional counselors and social workers.

Other Resources in the Community

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