How can we support children in grief?
Explaining that a loved one has died to a child is a very difficult and upsetting task. As a parent or loved one you will want to support them with their pain and loss. It can be difficult to know how much information to share, to best support your child. A child will need and want simple explanations after hearing of their loss. A child’s reaction to death will depend on their personality and developmental stage (which could be different from their actual age). This tends to adapt and change as they grow and mature. Understanding of death increases, you may find that the intensity of their emotions and behaviour about their loss does too. This may also depend on how the person died, and how the family are coping. Some children may need more help than other and this is where schools and therapist can help to support you. This can be helpful in many ways, in particular for your child to understand that whatever they are feeling is difficult, but normal.
Here are 3 tips so family and friends can support children over time
Help children keep memories
Children sometimes worry that they will forget the person who died, especially if they were quite young at the time of the death. Keeping memories alive through retelling of stories, photos and conversation helps to keep memories active. Parents can model ways to talk about the person who died and make his or her memory a part of special occasions. Finding ways to remember the importance of the relationship with the person who died is part of the healing process. Children often like to have physical reminders of the person who has died. Some children want to carry a picture or object that reminds them of their family member or keep it in a special place in the home.
Beware! Grief triggers can hit at anytime anywhere
These are often everyday events for example, music, smells, habits, or a number of other events. The first anniversaries are particularly difficult the date of the funeral, the date of the death, birthdays, any of these might bring up sudden and powerful feelings of sadness. When you help your children to understand that these feelings are natural and will continue but lessen in time.
Communicate with your child’s school as soon as possible
Children might struggle with concentration or become withdrawn. If the school has a counsellor or play therapist which many do these days, let them know whats happened so they may offer some additional support. There are many ways that children can express their emotions creatively in a safe space. This allows them a way of processing and understanding the intense emotions that they feel.
No matter how a child responds to their loss, managing and supporting them aswell as your own loss can be difficult. However with the ongoing support encouragement and love of the adults around them. Children can begin to process the emotions and loss in a healthy way.