The loss of a loved one is a devastating event for both children and adults. Following a loss, it’s perfectly natural to experience emotional turmoil and a wave of different feelings. A major part of dealing with death is the grieving process that allows us to accept that a person has died.
Since children are diverse in nature there is no single way that every child will experience the grieving process. It is dependent on a variety of factors such as age of the child and the bond the child had with the recently departed. One thing’s for sure though, during this difficult phase children need solid support from their parents and other adults in their life.
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Here is some practical advice parents can take to help kids deal with grief.
1. Break the News Gently
When first announcing the death of a loved one and preparing to discuss the topic of death, ensure you use concise and easy to understand language. First approach your child with a caring mindset and keep it clear and simple. For instance, “Your Granddad passed away today”. After breaking this sad news allow your child some time to take it in.
2. Listen & Reassure
Once you’ve broken the news, take the time to hear your child’s response and provide reassurance. Children are different, so your child may not respond how you expect. This is normal. Remain with your child to provide comfort and lots of hugs. Take your time to answer any questions that may arise with sensitivity and take the time to hug it out if necessary.
3. Express Emotions
Naturally, children may struggle to articulate what they are feeling and may not be able to express them in words. Therefore, it’s important to encourage them to express their feelings in any way they are able to. An effective method is to explain how you feel, that way they can understand how to express themselves and know that it’s OK. For example, you could say things like “I know you’re feeling very sad, we all are. We are going to miss Grandad so much.”
4. Remain Honest about Changes
It’s important to be honest with your child and explain if any changes will occur in their routine. This will give them time to adjust and if they know what to expect, any future shocks should be mitigated. For instance, “Uncle Rob will pick you up from school like Grandad did.” Or “Mom may be away from home for a while, but you and Dad will have to take care of each other while I’m gone.”
5. Discuss Funerals
Involving your child in the funeral process is a personal matter and the decision is for you to make. If you do wish to involve your child, ensure you tell your child what to expect in advance. For instance, “Many of Grandads friends and family will be there and they will sing, pray and celebrate his life. A lot of people may be sad and may say things like: “I’m sorry for your loss.” These are kind things to say to loved ones at a funeral. In response, we can say things like “Thank You,” and “Thank you for attending.”
There may come a time when they ask specific questions and you may need to explain what happens at a funeral – with regards to the burial or cremation, or whatever type of ceremony is involved. For instance, “At the funeral, Grandad will be inside the casket and laid to rest in the ground. It’s like saying goodbye and people may start to cry.”
It’s also important to explain what will happen after the funeral and to make it clear that people will be feeling better by this point. For instance, “Afterwards, we will all go to share food. People will share memories and stories about Grandad. That way we can help each other by being together and giving each other support.”
6. Involve your Child
It’s important to involve your child in the entire funeral process since this involvement can help them navigate this emotional and strange period. For instance, you could encourage your child to choose a funeral song, flowers or maybe even read a speech. Allow your child to be involved and to what extent.
7. Support your Child
During this difficult period of time, you have a major role in making your child feel better. Therefore, ensure you provide them with comfort, yet don’t spend too much time dwelling on sad emotions. After a short discussion, move onto topics and activities that will make your child feel better. A great way to do this is by doing things that will distract their mind – play, cook, get creative or take a day trip somewhere.
8. Give them Time
The major thing to bear in mind is that it’s going to take your child time to grieve and recuperate from the shock of losing a loved one. Throughout this difficult period, make sure you ask how they are feeling and emphasize that they can talk with you anytime they are feeling sad.
Remember to point out that grieving doesn’t mean forgetting about your family member. If anything it means we learn to remember the great memories we shared with them, that we can refer back to with fondness throughout life and use them to give us direction and comfort.
This post was written by Judith McLean. She is a parent to two boys, business owner and likes to help others develop their kids in a positive and proactive way! You can check out more of Judith’s writing at MomBible.
Judith’s writing concentrates on childhood development, practical parenting techniques, and behavioral science. She is currently studying child psychology and hopes to contribute greatly to this field.