Supporting children through grief

I recently had the unfortunate dealing with the passing away of a close friend and I was heartbroken, devastation doesn’t come close to it. However, I feel that a lot of this heartache was for her family especially her children and what they’ve gone through.

Dealing with a parent passing away is so hard for anyone, especially if there is a close bond between them.

How to tell a child if someone is ill or dead

According to a Child Psychologist, these are some of the best things to remember when telling a child about this sensitive subject:

Ideally, they need to be told by the closest member of the family to them.

Tell them clearly, children do understand.

“I have something sad to tell you, you know that Uncle John has been ill for a long time, but now he has died.”

“I have some sad news, Uncle John is in hospital ill.”

Don’t say “They’re lost” or “Passed away” because they may not understand that. This could then lead to questions which would make things harder for them to understand and could be more upsetting for both parties.

However, they still could come back with questions, but be prepared for this. Don’t worry about showing emotion in front of them, if you hide it this could lead to them hiding their emotions which is part of us all.

When telling them, tell them in a place they know well. Home would be the ideal place, in the lounge or somewhere they are comfortable. Somewhere with no distractions with the ability to then spend time with them to comfort them.

If this is a close relative, such as a parent or someone who is heavily involved in their day to day life explain the future plans. For instance explaining that when they go back to school and you go back to work the days may change of who collects or drops them off at school. Make sure you give them the facts, because they will want to be prepared.

Give yourself time to grieve

You almost become swamped with emotions worrying about your children, sometimes so emotionally drained that you’re exhausted. This can have quite a negative impact on your outlook which ultimately can reflect on your children, and this is why you need time to yourself.

Don’t try and do it alone and make sure you have a good support network around you, call those people that gave you their number in case you needed anything. This help could include getting someone to support you by entertaining your children with games or a walk to the park just so that you can give yourself time to grieve.

This can help you become more resilient and then help you deal with your emotions as well as your children’s as well as being able to support them.

Memories

Younger children may not remember all the moments spent with the deceased, so make the memories alive for them. Going through photos whilst telling them stories will help them, they may not remember when these memories happened, but you do and you can help them to keep those memories alive.

Encourage other members of the family or close friends to also tell them stories, from their memories. This will help them appreciate the happy memories rather than the more recent news of their passing.

Memory boxes are great for this, you can fill it with photos, letters, postcards or greetings cards to or from them. Then they can dip in and out of it when they want. You could also get creative with something that the deceased loved.

“Do you know what, let’s find a giraffe to colour in, nanny loved giraffes.”
“Mummy loved the colour purple, let’s put that purple feather in the box too.”
“Grandads glasses, let’s put them in your memory box to keep them safe.”

Communication

Finally, always listen. Always be attentive to them. Accept what they say or ask.

They have understood but their emotions are not consistent, they will dip in and out of emotions one minute staring into space wondering why someone has died. The next they could be putting the television on or asking for a snack. This is completely normal behaviour for them, this is called ‘puddle-jumping’.

They will say things that you cannot comprehend, but it is very important to listen and accept what they have said. If you can answer a question clearly with facts then do so, but be prepared for emotions and cuddles.

Also counselling could be a benefit, but not too early. But it’s always worth thinking about once things have settled down, anything from 6 months to 6 years.

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