Has someone close to you recently passed away?
If so, then you are probably feeling a whirlwind of emotions. You may be having a hard time keeping it together and trying to remain positive. It can be a very upsetting time for your entire family and a very confusing time for your child. Below are some tips on helping young children understand death and helping them make sense of their emotions and grief during this time.
Find the Right Way to Tell Them
When telling your child that someone has died it is important to do so at the right time. Make sure your child is not distracted and keep the news as truthful as possible. Children understand concrete facts and thus the concept of death can be a little confusing. Many children expect the person to return after they have died. It is important to be honest with your child when discussing death. Saying that Nanna has fallen asleep can suggest that she will wake up eventually. Making death a concrete and permanent state but explaining how memories live on can help your child to understand what has happened.
Make sure your child understands that it is nobody’s fault that the loved one has died. For example, don’t say that the “doctor couldn’t save him” as this suggests that it is the doctor’s fault that he died. Make sure he understands that death is a natural part of life and that it was not his fault, or anyone’s fault that the loved one has died.
Help them Understand
Young children may not know how to feel about the news. They will probably feel sad but may be unsure why. Let them know that it is natural to feel sad and it is good to cry and to talk about how they feel.
Perform a Goodbye Service
Let your child come along to the memorial or funeral. That way they will see that this is a happy occasion and a way to say goodbye. If there is no funeral or memorial service or if you are unable to attend, then consider doing something together to mark the occasion and celebrate the memories. Writing a poem or a letter about the loved one is a good way to say goodbye.
Look for Visual Assistance
Consider borrowing some books from your local library that discuss death. There are plenty of picture books about death that are gentle and calming including: When Grandpa Died by Margaret Stevens, Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley, Nonna by Jennifer Bartoli, The Accident by Carol Carrick and The Happy Funeral by Eve Bunting
Watch for the Signs
Children come to terms with death in a similar way as adults. However, watch out for these signs that may suggest your child is grieving
- Anxiety and a loss of sense of security
- Quietness. Many children will not know how to handle their feelings and thus will go into a shell.
- Problems with sleeping or fear of going to sleep. This often occurs if the death is explained as a ‘really long sleep’.
- Unexplained Sadness
- Anger and acting out
- Problems at school
- Silliness. Some children will deal with the death of a loved one by telling jokes and not making a big deal about the situation.
All of these reactions to death are completely normal. It may take your child several months to get over the incident or they may seem fine in a couple of days.
If you are ever concerned about their behaviour and reaction to the death, it doesn’t hurt to speak to your GP who may recommend seeing a therapist.