Support a Grieving Child
Children are often said to be the forgotten mourners but if a child is capable of loving, they are able to grieve. How they perceive death and how they express their grief will depend on a number of things, their developmental stages and their relationship to the deceased, their experiences with death, their cultural and religious upbringing and their own unique personality.
Children can be unfamiliar with and overwhelmed by the emotions that come with grief and often have difficulty in verbalising these feelings. While they frequently experience the same emotions as adults, they may express them differently. Children are similar to adults, in that no two children will respond to grief in the same way.
Their grief will be as individual as they are.
It is natural for us as adults to want to protect our children, to shield them from pain. There are however many ways you can help a child through grief. By guiding them and allowing them to grieve in their own way, you will give them the life skills that are needed to deal with this inevitable part of life and teach them that, this is life.
TALKING AND LISTENING...
Children learn by asking questions. It is important that they know you are available to answer any questions they may have. Always be honest with them, giving them age appropriate answers and as much information as needed.
When telling them a loved one has died, do not say they have passed away, gone to sleep or they've gone away. Do use the words 'death and died'. Explain to the child what this means is that the person is no longer breathing and their heart has stopped beating. Preschool children see death as being temporary and reversible. It is important to give children clear answers.
Children will need lots of reassurance and routine while they are experiencing these unfamiliar emotions. They need to feel safe and loved. Routine gives them this security.
Read age appropriate books on loss and death with them. This will help children to understand that they are normal and will help to open the door to any questions they may have.
Talk about the person who has died, recalling things that they may have done together or what was special about them. This helps children to remember the special bond they have with their loved one.
Sit and look through photos, reliving the stories. Perhaps suggest to the child to make a memory album together. The memories will then forever be there to remind them of the connection they share with their loved one.
It's alright for children to see you sad and cry. Tell them why you are sad, that you miss the one that has died and explain to them that it's OK to be sad and that gradually it will hurt less. This gives children permission to show their emotions too.
Children need to know it's OK to still enjoy life. To laugh and play does not mean you have stopped loving or forgotten the deceased. It's healthy every now and then, to have a rest from grieving and let a little sunshine and laughter into your life.
Some children like to have keepsakes of their loved one. If possible let them choose what they might like to keep. Perhaps give them a memory box to keep photographs or special momentums that once belonged to their loved one, something that will give them a feeling of still being connected to their loved one. Girls may find it comforting to wear a locket with a photograph of the deceased.
Children will often benefit from finding a way to symbolise the death and remembering their loved one. Each child will be different. Give them choices and let them decide what is right for them.
Plant a memory flower garden with them, get the child to write a note on birthdays or Christmas and attach it to a helium balloon to release into the air, visit the cemetery to place some flowers, hang a special decoration on the tree at Christmas time. Let them choose a photo and place it in a special frame. Give them a journal or diary so they can write their thoughts and feelings, create a memory album with them. Remember their loved ones birthday and bake a cake recalling the special times that were shared while you are doing this. Doing any of these things with a child can help them to express their grief. Remembering the person who died is part of the healing process.
"Children require guidance and sympathy far more than instruction"
This site is for information and support only, not a substitute for professional advice.