Children are affected by grief too. Here's some helpful words from Jackie Waters.
How to Help a Child Understand and Accept Death
The loss of a loved one is difficult no matter your age. However, according to National Geographic, young children don’t possess the ability to completely grasp the permanence of death. As a parent, it is your responsibility to help your child process their emotions and ultimately come to terms with his new life, a life missing someone of importance. Here are a few tips that will help the entire family during this difficult time.
Be open and honest about the situation. One of the most heart-wrenching responsibilities of parenthood is having to inform your child that a grandparent, parent, friend, or family member has passed on. Don’t use soft words to conceal the hard truth. Be clear that the person has died and will not return. Phrases such as, “they have passed on” or “grandma is sleeping now” will only confuse minds that are only capable of understanding literal explanations.
Listen and be ready to answer questions. Upon learning of the death of a loved one, some children break into inconsolable tears; others ask questions. Others still may simply wish to talk about the person. These are all normal reactions and you can expect most children to rotate between responses. Stay close by your child’s side to offer support in the form of hugs, kisses, and reassurance. Listen intently to anything they have to say and provide answers to their questions with age-appropriate responses.
Discuss what happens next. As KidsHealth.org points out, the death of a close family member can mean drastic changes to your child’s everyday life. These could be short-term or have far-reaching effects to the child’s family dynamic. If you must be away for any period of time, let your child know. Unless they are aware ahead of time, your actions will only confuse them and potentially send them into a panic that you, too, have died.
Help them understand the death was not their fault. Many children believe there’s something they could have done to prevent their loved one’s death or that they were a direct or indirect cause of it. Explain to your children that death is a natural part of life and nothing they did caused it to happen.
Let your child say goodbye in their own way. Depending on how old the child is when the death occurs, they might not be ready to attend the funeral or memorial service. If this is the case, help them find closure by having them dictate things for you to write in a letter that will be buried with the loved one. Older kids may wish to send a special stuffed animal or drawing in the coffin or urn. Within reason, allow your child to do and say whatever he or she needs to in order to feel “okay” with the death.
Children grieve in their own way and many don’t begin to show effects of that grief until long after the passing. As they mature, so will their understanding of the loss. The American Cancer Society notes that new questions may arise in time and these, too, should be answered candidly but with care and compassion. The age-old wisdom that time heals all wounds remains true, even as the devastating effects of loss tear at those you love the most. Taking care of your child’s emotional, mental and physical health is very important during this time. Be there for your child, and they will be there for you. Together, you will overcome the heartache and reclaim the happiness your child fears lost forever.
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