Children and Grief
Trying to explain loss to an adult is hard, trying to explain loss to a child, can at times seem impossible. There are no steadfast rules, but there are useful pointers that we can offer, which may make this challenging situation, slightly easier for you. The following film is for you to watch with your children, and is presented by Dr Ranj Singh, a Paediatrician and Children’s TV Presenter.
Video from Dr Ranj
1. Do not try to hide what is going on from your children – they may not need to hear all the details, but if they are aware of what’s happening, make sure you keep them informed and make them feel included.
2. Try to not break bad news to others, whilst your children are present (if at all possible). It’s impossible to gauge how others may react, so if possible avoid adding to your child’s distress and tell people your sad news in private.
3. Talk to your children about the event that is happening. Use simple language that they can understand, which is age appropriate (for example, “your baby sister was not well, and so she has now gone to live in Heaven.”)
4. Reassure your children about their safety. When children hear about other babies dying, at times it can make them fear that they may die, or that you, as their parents may die – suddenly they face mortality, and that can be such a hard thing for them to understand, and for you to explain. Just keep reassuring them that they are safe, and what happened to their sister/brother won’t happen to them.
5. Children need comforting words. Tell them what you are feeling (within reason), and how the loss has touched you. Then, encourage them to talk about how they feel. It is important to validate their feelings, and answer any questions that they may have. Very young children have feelings and no words. Teenagers can at times have the wrong words. Whatever their age let them guide your pace and don’t push, just keep creating opportunities to talk.
6. Be proactive and try to do physical acts of remembrance and expression. Say a prayer, light a candle, read a book on grief, draw a picture of how you are feeling, write a poem, write a letter, and/or attend a remembrance service as a family. Any way you can encourage your child to communicate their feelings is fantastic, as it is healthy to talk. Children also find it a lot easier to chat whilst doing an activity (like colouring), as it feels less intense for them, and they can be more honest with their feelings.
7. Reassure your child a little more and watch them a little more closely. Make obvious gestures that show you care, and are looking out for them, as this can help them feel loved and secure. However also be aware of not smothering them, or suddenly becoming over protective, as that can make them feel more insecure.
8. Be prepared for delayed reactions. Children grieve very differently from adults. They may not talk about things for weeks or months, or they may be flooded with feelings immediately. Be available to talk about their grief whenever it may come up. Don’t forget about your own grief, but make sure your family/friends or SG help you deal with yours, not your children.
9. Keep as many normal routines as possible. Routines are very important to children, as they help them feel secure – by keeping structure and activities in place, the normal every day things that are taking place, at such an abnormal time- will help your child feel normal again and will make them feel like their world hasn’t radically changed. Remember that grief can be exhausting and whilst you should encourage a similar routine to continue (where possible), if you child refuses to do something respect that.
10. Consider adding in a few treats or family days out. Whilst visiting the zoo may be the last place you want to visit right now, try and do it for your children – having some time out to do something fun with Mummy and Daddy can make so much difference to your child’s emotional wellbeing – you can speak to a child years after a traumatic event, and they can recount, “Oh is that when we went to the theme park?” – which shows it’s made a positive lasting impression.
11 If in doubt seek help. There is no shame in asking for support for you or your children. If you ever feel concerned, speak to a professional who can help guide you, and them, through this traumatic period.