Children do not deal with separation and loss in the same way as adults. Adults, for example, recognize the difference between a friend moving out of town and a friend dying. Young children, on the other hand, simply view both situations as loss.
Here are some important points to consider when you are helping a child deal with separation and/or loss:
1. Children have three questions that they want answered ASAP when loss or separation occur: Is what happened my fault? Will it happen to me? How will what happened affect me? All three questions need to be answered in terms that the child can understand.
2. Don’t use words that make death or separation more palatable to adults. Children are literal. Don’t say words like “sleeping” or “resting.” You might make the child afraid to go to sleep. Explain the situation in literal terms to children.
3. Give the child an opportunity for closure if it is possible. If his friend is moving away, take him to visit and give him the opportunity to say goodbye. The same thing is true for a death. Prepare the child for what is to be.
4. Listen to what the child has to say about the separation or loss. He has an opinion, and it’s important that the opinion be given validation.
5. Remember that from the child’s point of view, stability and continuity are of the utmost importance. Children do not like major changes to their worlds. Changes make a child feel threatened. Point out that you are there and that you love him. Tell him how his world has not changed and list the ways that his world will remain unchanged.
Children, particularly young children, need to be guided through separation and loss situations with patience and love.