Helping your child deal with grief by Wendy Collins

For adults, dealing with the death of someone close can often be overwhelming.

Children may also find it very hard to understand death and can show their grief in many ways.

Talking about death with children can be difficult and painful. We might be frightened to say the wrong thing or worry we will scare young minds.

The best approach is to talk openly in clear, simple words. For example, if you need to break the news that someone has died, use direct words such as “I have some sad news to tell you. Aunty Sarah died today”. Then pause and give your child a moment to take in your words.

They will most likely have questions. For example, if they ask, “So where’s she gone?”, respond by asking “What do you think?”. Then build your answer based on their understanding of what has happened.
Children need to share in the family grief. It’s OK to say, “I’m sad because grandpa has died”. This can be helpful to children who are trying to understand their own emotions.

Avoid information overload. Gradually provide small amounts of information to help them process what you have explained.

It is much easier for children to understand if you use direct words, such as “died” or “death”. Avoid using terms such as “Grandma has gone to sleep”, or “Ben has gone away up with the stars”.

Saying these things might make the child frightened to go to sleep or worry that when you leave the house you might not return.

Although adults know that death is an inevitable part of life, young children do not understand that death is permanent.

Yet, it is important for them to know that death is not like sleeping. It is about life ending. That means the normal things your body does when you’re alive can’t be done anymore.

So, you might say, something like “No darling we can’t see daddy because he died, but let’s look at some photos and remember him”.

It is quite OK to cry in front of children and express your natural emotions. Likewise, be prepared that each child might react differently.

Some children may cry, others may seem to not react at all. There may be angry outbursts, or regressive behaviour like thumb-sucking or clinginess, or attention-seeking misconduct.

Be prepared for a child to ask the same questions repeatedly. While this may be frustrating, it is part of their need for reassurance and helps them process the information.

Children are naturally curious and factual answers are the best response.

Allow your child to participate in funeral rituals. For example, they could choose a song, a spiritual reading or poem, or select a photo for a special tribute. This will give them a sense of control at a time of traumatic loss.

Prepare your child for what might occur during a funeral service. Let them know who will be there, and what they will be doing. For example, you might say “Lots of people who loved Aunty Sarah will be there. They will feel sad and might cry and that’s OK. Aunty Sarah’s body will be placed in a coffin that will be buried in the ground with a special ceremony”.

Finally, remember that grief is a process that happens over time. Healing doesn’t mean forgetting about the loved one, but it means remembering the person with love and letting fond memories support us as we go on to enjoy life that will look different from what it was before.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wendy Collins is a Funeral Director with George Hartnett Metropolitan Funerals at Village Fair, Regents Park, proudly serving the Logan West district.

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