How to support a child through times of loss or grief:
- Give your child truthful information – sometimes it may be tempting to shield your child from unpleasant facts, particularly if you are in pain yourself, but in fact if you do not tell your child the truth, they may build a fantasy of what has happened and they may easily come to the conclusion that it was their fault.
- Inform your child’s school what has happened so that they may support your child through this difficult time.
- Give your child reassurance -encourage them to believe in their ability to recover.
- Help your child to understand that dead means “not living.” Use age-appropriate language and factual works like “death” or “dying.” Remember that younger children often think that death and sleeping are the same and they may need to be reassured that if they go to sleep, they will wake up again.
- Give your child opportunities to say goodbye. Let your child go to the funeral and/or the cemetery. Explain to the child beforehand what to expect.
- Allow your child to talk about what has happened even if it feels painful. Often children become anxious about expressing grief because they don’t want to upset you.
- Be prepared to answer the same questions over and over again – children will take longer to understand what has happened than adults.
- Give your child opportunities to express his/her feelings and reflect those feelings back to them. For example, ”I know you are very angry that Grandpa is sick. You are scared he is going to die.”
- Stick to normal daily routines and don’t forget to keep hugging and holding your child – they will need lots of reassurance and affection.
- Be creative – Allow your child to make something that will keep the loved one’s memory alive. This could be a photo album, a story about the person, or a memory box with a few precious objects in. These memories can then be returned to at a less painful time.
- Young children almost always display magical thinking during times of loss or death. Therefore you need to clearly convey the message – “It was not your fault. You are not bad or unlovable. There is nothing you could have done to change things.”
- Avoid using euphemisms or figures of speech like “went to sleep” or “passed away.” Remember a child may take these phrases literally and become fearful of what they mean.
- Make time to mark special times that were special before the bereavement and also to enjoy life!
- Empower your child – ask them what they want.
- Don’t take control away from the child – let them make decisions about what they want to do.
- Try to share your grief with your child without “dumping” it onto them.
- Let them have contact with people with whom they are close to.
An example of a Memory Box:
End of Part 2.