The Right Words to Say When Someone Has Lost a Child

What to Say and What Not to Say

If you have never experienced the death of a child, it's extremely difficult to know what to say to someone facing this type of loss. The death of a child is unnatural, unfair, and tragic.

It's completely natural for friends of the grieving parents to want to reach out and help, yet still, struggle to find the right words to say because what you say—and what you don't—can deeply affect someone in need.

Mother and daughter holding hands on sofa
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What to Say to a Grieving Parent

Parents who have lost a child want to feel supported in their grief and receive permission to grieve in their own way. They need to feel like their child's life was of unique importance and meant something to others who knew and loved him or her. You can meet the needs of a grieving parent by keeping the following in mind:

  • Offer sincere condolence. "I am so sorry for your loss" is a good example.
  • Offer open-ended support. "If there is anything I can do, please let me know. I'm willing to help in any way."
  • Offer silence. Don't feel like you need to fill the empty spaces with talking. Get comfortable with silence and just be physically present with the grieving parents.
  • When the time is right, express what the deceased child meant to you. This might not be appropriate to do immediately following the child's death. When the time is right, it can prove very meaningful to the parent to hear others express what the deceased child meant. You might also share a favorite memory or two to make it more personal.

The best rule of thumb is to prepare yourself by knowing what to say, but don't go in with a game plan or any expectations. Be present, and let that little voice in your head tell you when it's time to speak and when it's time not to.

What Not to Say

Equally as important as what to say is what not to say, such as:

  • Don't say you know how the bereaved parent feels.
  • Never say, "Well, it must have been for the best," or "It was God's will." Trying to make sense of loss in these ways can make the grieving parents feel like you're minimizing their child's death.
  • Never say, "She's in a better place now." That might bring you comfort if you believe in heaven, but it might not provide comfort to a grieving parent, who is in the worst possible place on earth.
  • Don't trivialize your loved one's story by telling a story of your own. This is their time to grieve so keep the focus on them.
  • Don't mention a timeline for grief or the stages of grief. Grief doesn't follow a timeline or move through predictable stages.

As a general rule, avoid philosophizing or trying to make things better. Accept the fact that you may feel awkward and helpless. Most mistakes occur when you aren't prepared and say things to either hide or overcome these perfectly normal feelings.

Keep Up the Support

Keep in mind that someone who loses a child will never get "back to normal" and will never "get over it." The loss of a child transforms a person for the rest of his or her life.

Because of this, you should love and support your bereaved friend or loved one for who they are and who they will become as he or she adjusts to the difficult, unfair loss of a child.

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  2. Rogers CH, Floyd FJ, Mailick Seltzer M, Greenberg J, Hong J. Long-term effects of the death of a child on parents’ adjustment in midlife. J Fam Psychol. 2008;22(2):203–211. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.22.2.203