Losing a loved one is hard at any age. But for young children, the death of a family member, friend, or even a pet, can have a profound impact.
As an adult, you understand the concept of death, and even if you’ve not suffered a loss before, it makes sense to you, and you can grasp what’s happened on an intellectual level. But for a child who has never had to grieve before, it can be bewildering and scary. As a parent or guardian of a grieving child, it is your job to help them understand what has happened, mourn in their own way, and move on. And this can be especially hard when you have your own grief to deal with at the same time.
Everyone handles loss differently, and how your kid deals with their feelings will depend on their age, their relationship with the deceased, and how much support they have available. Here is some advice if you need to console your children after the loss of a loved one.
Be clear and upfront
When talking to a child about death, it can be tempting to soften the blow by using expressions such as “Grandma has passed” or “your dog is in a better place.” But these euphemisms can just add to feelings of confusion and prevent your child from moving on. It’s important that you treat them like an adult and use clear terminology. Explain that “Grandma has died,” and do your best to help them understand what that means.
Everyone needs an outlet for their grief, and however your child reacts, let them know that you are there for them. They might burst into tears or they might ask a million questions. Listen to them, give them a hug, and provide a shoulder to cry on.
Talk about how you’re feeling
Your child might have no idea how to feel about the situation and will look to you for guidance. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions. It’s OK to cry in front of your child and tell them how you are feeling. This will help them feel more comfortable with their own emotions.
Let your child get involved
It might be tempting to keep your child well away from the messy details of funerals and services, but it can be beneficial to give them a role instead. Perhaps let them read a poem at the memorial or come with you to pick out churchyard headstones. This will help them to see death as something not to be afraid of but a natural part of life.
Remember the loved one together
It’s important to help your child focus on the positive rather than dwelling on the fact that the person they loved is gone. Talk about pleasant memories you shared with the deceased, perhaps encouraging your little one to write stories or draw pictures. Don’t shy away from talking about the person you lost. Recalling happy memories helps you to deal with grief in a positive way and move on.
Remember, it takes time to process one’s grief, and everyone reacts differently. Give your child plenty of time to deal with their feelings and be there for them every step of the way.