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Ways to Help Children Deal With Bereavement

Children grieve differently than adults, and it's not always easy to know what to say to children who are facing the death of a loved one. We've asked an expert for advice

 

Talking about and dealing with death can be hard as an adult - when you know enough to ask questions and try to come to terms with the situation and eventually the loss. Imagine how it feels for a child who's full of questions - and not always politically correct ones.

In many cases adults struggle with how much information to share with children during these times, so we asked the expert Britt Carlsen - a hospice professional and child welfare officer - for her advice.

1. Include the child

Make sure they receive information about the health of the ill or dying person from the beginning. Children can be very perceptive, and trying to hide information from them is likely to make them anxious or helpless if adults don't want to answer their questions or talk to them.

2. Inform

The child should get information appropriate to their age and maturity about what is happening, or has happened to the person who has died or is dying. If you are unsure about what or how to tell your child, you can get help from a professional or a charity such as the Winston's Wish's helpline or Child Bereavement UK.

3. Be honest

Answer any questions the child might have, such as "What is wrong with dad" or "Is Grandma going to die?" If they ask questions you don't know the answer to, it's okay to say "I don't know". Always telling the truth is important and crucial for the child to trust you and be able to come to you with difficult questions.

4. Presence

Let children participate in funeralsLet the child be present at hospital appointments and visits. After the death, let the child see the dead body (depending on the situation), but prepare them beforehand and explain that the person will be cold and stiff, for example. Let the child participate in the funeral. The child could contribute by reading a poem, laying a rose on the coffin, or making a drawing.

5. See the child

Ask how the child is doing. Use the moments where your child usually opens up and asks questions, such as before bedtime, when in the car, etc. Ask them how they are doing, what they are finding difficult, and what they need.

6. Show your own emotions

It's okay to cry and show that you are sad in front of the child. It will make it easier for them to show their own emotions, and make them understand that it's okay to be sad and grieve.

7. Keep the memory alive

Talk about the deceased, look at pictures, ask the child what they remember and what they miss doing with the person. Don't be afraid that mentioning the person will make the child sad.

8. Make a memory book or box

Make a scrap book or box and collect memories about the deceased. Collect photos and other memoranda, and encourage people who knew the person to write about them. Involve the child in drawing and decorating. Making a memory box or book will let the child re-live and remember the good memories they have of the person, and they can turn to it to comfort when they feel sad or miss their loved one.

9. Involve other adults in the child's life

Inform important adults such as teachers or nursery workers about what is happening so that they can be supportive and keep an extra eye on your child. Involve family members and friends of the family who love the child and offer to support. It's important for the child to build relationships and receive practical and emotional support from other adults.

10. Get counselling

Going to grief counselling, and meeting other children who have had similar experiences can be tremendously helpful for children. Grief counselling helps with processing the grief. It will help the child to talk about, and examine their feelings, and make them feel that they are not alone. Your child's GP can refer you to the service.

Other resources:

Making a memory box
 
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