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Helping Kids Mourn

Mark Tomasovic of Rowlett, TX, was 6 when his grandmother, who lived in upstate New York, died of kidney cancer. When he heard the news, his only question was, "'Will you have to fly up there again?'" says his mom, Betty. "The death didn't seem real to him." That doesn't mean he wasn't grieving. Kids often have a cold, oblivious, or oddly upbeat reaction to death, all of which is completely normal. How to recognize a child in mourning and help her cope:

Be honest. Children this age are fascinated by death, so they may ask such questions as, "Where is Grandma's body now? Does her brain still work?" Explain that when people die, their bodies stop functioning, and nothing can bring them back. It may seem harsh, but by age 6, kids understand death's permanence and may be comforted to know that it's a fact of life -- not some mysterious force.

Look beyond behavior. Confused by their feelings, some children cover them up with giggling or fidgeting, says Charles LaVallee, executive director of The Highmark Caring Place, a grief center in Pitts-burgh. Instead of chiding your child, give her the chance to validate her behavior: It's so sad that Grandma died, it's hard to know what to do sometimes, isn't it?"

Don't just talk -- listen. Even if your child doesn't seem upset, make yourself available for questions and feelings that may come up over time. And in the midst of your own grief, watch for body language -- your child's curled up in a ball or has her arms wrapped around herself -- that's silently calling for a parent's comfort.