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Ways to Help a Foster or Adopted Child's Grieving

When They Are Grieving Losses

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Father and Son
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There is no one way to help a grieving child. Many foster and adoptive parents need to be ready with a bunch of different tools to help. Here are a few that may help as you parent a child that is grieving.

  1. Offer Healthy Distractions - Involve the child in activities like dance, sports, or clubs.

  2. Work on Their Lifebooks - Help the child work on her life books. An excellent way to open up healthy communication about their family and the losses they have endured.

  3. Listen When the Child Does Talk - Try to listen more than speak if the child does decide to talk about birth family and their feelings about what has happened. Assign feelings when appropriate such as, 'Sounds like you are disappointed' or 'Sounds like you miss your mom' and 'I bet you were scared.' These statements open up more communication, help the child understand what has happened, and doesn't pass judgment on what the child has shared.

  4. Let them Write it or Draw it Out - Give the child a journal. Help him get started with these questions. If the child is too young for writing, encourage the child to draw his feelings.

  5. Create a Place for Special Memories - Make a memory quilt or memory boxes to hold treasures from home. Remember, that what is a 'treasure' to the child may look like a piece of trash to you. Maybe that candy bar wrapper came from the last gift given to the child from birth mom or dad.

  6. Find a Grief Group - Many agencies hold grief groups for children who have gone through termination of parental rights. Ask your worker to see if such a group meets in your area.

  7. Offer Lots of Support - The child will need support before and after family visitation. Prepare yourself and know that the child may act out with different grieving behaviors. Start a tradition of doing something after visitation if possible like getting ice cream, going for a walk, or taking a drive. This gives the child time to talk about the visit and relax.

  8. Find a Good Therapist - A therapist that understands foster care and adoptive issues is the best option if possible. If the child's grief turns into depression it may be time to find professional help. Warning signs of depression may include:

    • The child loses interest in daily activities and interests.
    • Inability to sleep and loss of appetite.
    • Acting much younger than chronological age for an extended period of time.
    • Sharp drop in school performance.
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