Children may not fully comprehend it when a loved one dies, but even if they do, they will not all feel and show their grief in the same way. When the death of a parent occurs, children will show grief depending on their age, how close they felt to the deceased, and also the support they receive.
Adults or the other parent can help grieving children heal by providing information, listening, caring and ensuring continuity of their normal activities, but there are more practical approaches.
Here are some things a surviving parent or other adults can do to help young grievers:
1. Use Clear Terms
To break the news of the death of a loved one or parent to a child, approach your child in a caring manner. Use words that are simple and direct. For example,
“I have some sad news to tell you. Mummy died today.”
Wait for a moment for your child to take in your words.
2. Listen And Comfort
As the days roll by and the loss of a parent becomes clearer, a child may cry, another might want to ask questions or some may just not react. All reactions are OK. Stay with them and provide reassurance. Listen to their questions and be generous with hugs and cuddles.
3. Encourage Expression
Encourage your kid to say what they are thinking and feeling in the days, weeks, and months following the loss. Talk about your own feelings-It helps kids be aware of and feel comfortable with theirs.
Say things like,
“I know you’re feeling very sad. I’m sad, too. We both loved mummy so much, and she loved us, too.
It is important to not halt or disrupt normal activities at home. By ensuring continuity of normal activities at home, school, or community, you help your child maintain balance and deal with their feelings in an organised way. Talk to your child’s teacher about the loss as soon as you can so they can provide extra support for him/her.
5. Care And Provide Answers
Your grieving child may be acting cool but may have conflicting thoughts on his mind. They are also likely to have questions that they might not ask you, including: ‘who will look after me?’, ‘what if I get sick?, ‘did I cause my parent to die?’
The death of a parent can shake a child’s believe in a safe place or it can cause them to feel some guilt, as though something they did or did not do may have contributed or caused the death of the deceased parent. Even when these concerns are not voiced, it is important to provide answers and reassurance to grieving children of their care and allay their fears for the future.
6. Be Honest
If the death of a parent will affect your child’s life in some way, do well to explain to them how. If a aunt or uncle is going to be picking them up from school or they need to stay with that aunt or uncle for some weeks, explain to them, you could say;
I need to make some arrangements for the family, that means you will be staying with Uncle X, so you can be with your cousins.
7. Talk About Funerals And Rituals
Talk to your child ahead of the funeral. What it will look like and the rituals involved. You could say for example,
“Lots of people who loved mummy will be there. We will sing, pray, and talk about mum’s life.
People might cry and hug, and say things like, ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ or, ‘My condolences.’
Those are polite and kind things to say to the family at a funeral. We can say, ‘Thank you,’ or, ‘Thanks for coming.’ You can stay near me and hold my hand if you want.”
8. Give your Child Time To Heal
Grief is a process, so provide the comfort your child needs without dwelling on the sad feelings. After a few minutes of talking and listening, move over to some other activities. Be sure to have ongoing conversations over a period of time and help your child heal by retaining fond memories of the departed parent that can promote healing and moving on.
When Should You Consider Therapy?
It may become necessary to put your child through therapy if they show signs of aggression, withdrawal, difficulties with talking and at academic reversals, sleeping an eating problems, headaches or other physical symptoms.
A therapist or counselor may suggest you have with your older child and adolescent so you can all be a part of the session together, while younger kids can benefit from play therapy.