Children andyoung people grieve just as deeply as adults, but they show it in differentways. They learn how to grieve by mirroring the responses of the adults aroundthem. They rely on adults to provide them with what they need to support themin their grief.Thefollowing information could help if your child has lost a loved one or if aloved one is dying.
Talking to ayoung child about death and dying is incredibly difficult and can feel just toohard to do. This is compounded by an adult’s natural instinct to protectchildren from the tough things in life. In order to make some sense of what hashappened children need information and explanations.
These need to be honest,simple, and in language the child understands. Children candeal with the truth, no matter how difficult or traumatic, what they find hardare the untruths. When circumstances surrounding the death are particularlydistressing it may be tempting to withhold information, but even in thoseinstances the same principles apply.Children’sunderstanding of death at different agesChildren are naturally good at dipping in and out oftheir grief. They can be intensely sad one minute, then suddenly switch toplaying happily the next. This apparent lack of sadness may lead adults tobelieve children are unaffected. However, this “puddle-jumping” is a type ofin-built safety mechanism that prevents them being overwhelmed by powerfulfeelings.As children get older, this instinctive “puddle-jumping”becomes harder and teenagers may spend long periods of time in one behaviour oranother (Child Bereavement UK).
For a youngperson, getting on with life might mean a hectic social schedule as their wayof shutting out the pain. Or they may withdraw into themselves, rejectingoffers of help and being generally very hard to communicate with. They may befeel resentment or guilt about the loved one they have lost. If this is thecase, try to stick with it and continue to let a teenager know that you arestill there for them. However, try not to put them under pressure to talk. Thedifference between adult and child grief is sometimes illustrated by thefollowing: a child jumps in and out of puddles of grief, but an adult is deepin a river, being swept along with the current, finding it very difficult toget out (Child bereavement UK).The relationship the child or young person had with theperson who has died will affect the depth of the grief the child shows. How the person died may also be significant.
Viewing abody with a childChildren usually view bodies to say goodbye, or to gainreassurance that the body is at peace, especially if the death was in traumaticcircumstances. They tell us that this helps to put their minds at rest and thatthe real thing, however difficult, is never as bad as imagined thoughts andunanswered questions. For many, it helps them start to understand the realityof what being dead means.Be guided by what feels right for you and your children, butit can help to talk things through with someone from outside the family.
The Child Bereavement UK Support and Information Line 01494 568900offers impartial guidance.Explaining funerals, burial and cremation to childrenWhen someonedies, most people gain some comfort from an opportunity to say goodbye at theFuneral. It is no different forchildren.
As long as they have been prepared and given the choice to be there,or not, they find it a helpful experience.A very young child, toddler, or even a baby can be therewith the rest of the family. Although they will not understand at the time, itis when older that children appreciate knowing that along with everyone elsethey were a part of this important event.
If your children choose not to attend, or being there isnot possible for them, remember that there are other alternatives. You could decide together to have a privatefamily farewell or do something special to remember the person who has died. Practical tips:Reassure the child or young person that it is not theirfault.Show them that it is ok to be upset; let them show theirfeelings and fears.
Create stability by continuing with some existingroutines such as play dates and clubs.Understand that they haven’t forgotten about it if theyappear happy and carefree.Don’t be surprised if they do things they had grown outof e.g. bedwetting, temper tantrums or refusing to go to school.Watch for signs of depressionLet your child take the time they need to grieve.
Create traditions and ways of remembering Things to do that could helpMaking a memorybox with the childIf you’re a parent and you know you’re going to die,Sarah suggests thinking about making a memory box to give to your child, ormaking one together. This is a box containing things that remind you both ofyour time together. It can provide an important link between you and your childonce you’ve gone. Macmillan Cancer Support has information about making amemory box. Pre-bereavement counselling gives the child a chance to thinkand talk about their feelings and share their worries.
Looking after yourself is essentialThe first step to supporting a grieving child or youngperson is to get support for yourself. It is not a sign of weakness or notbeing able to cope if you seek help from others. Don’t expect too much ofyourself – managing life and your own grief, at the same time as trying tosupport a child or young person, is exhausting.Talking through your feelings It may be enough to talk with family or close friends.
Oryou may find it helpful to get dedicated bereavement support, either one-to-oneor in a group.Joining a group can be particularly helpful, as you can talkto other people in the same situation. The Sue Ryder Online Community is anonline support group that’s available 24/7 from anywhere you can get online.If you feel that you don’t want to talk, it is important tofind other ways to manage your feelings.