How to talk to children about grief

A troubled looking young boy looks out of a window

The Queen’s passing has no doubt brought up questions from children, who for the first time are encountering the loss of someone they ‘knew’.

While it may seem unnecessary to talk about the Queen dying with kids, this may be their first experience of death and be wondering what it means.

They may have also experienced a loss in the past, and the news regarding the Queen could bring up feelings again. It can really help, therefore, to talk about dying with children. The following tips may help you in supporting your child to process bereavement and open up the discussion:

Use clear language

While it can be tempting to describe death as ‘falling asleep’, this can be confusing to little ones, who may wonder why the person can’t just ‘wake up.’ It can seem too blunt to use terms like ‘died’ with children, however, it helps their understanding for the language used by parents to be clear.

‘What is death?’

Don’t be afraid to answer tough questions, although bear in mind it’s best to keep in mind the child’s age and level of understanding. An explanation along the lines of ‘when someone or something dies its heart stops beating and it cannot move its body anymore. Their body has stopped working and they can’t come back to life’ can be helpful.

Talking about this in terms of an animal- perhaps a fly or spider- can be useful in helping them grasp the idea.

‘Will you die?’

With an understanding of what death is, comes further questions and worries. The best response to fears about losing family members is to reassure your child that everyone is very healthy and everyone is working to keep it that way.

If there is a poorly member of the family, a helpful way to frame it for children is that ‘Grandma is unwell and in hospital but the doctors are working hard looking after her.’

Honesty is the best policy

It is better to be honest and open about someone dying than to try and dodge or sugar-coat the subject. Children can be confused by indirect messages and try to fill in the blanks themselves.

Their feelings are normal

Just as it is for adults, hearing of a death can trigger all manner of feelings for kids including fear, sadness, emptiness, grief, and anxiety. Reassure them that their feelings are normal and that you are there for them.

If your child has lost someone close to them

When a family member or friend dies, it’s important, to be honest about what has happened. Encourage your child to ask any questions and talk about how they feel, or about the person they have lost.

Children who have lost someone close may often experience feelings of anger or blaming themselves for what has happened. It’s important to explain and reassure them that they are in no way at fault.

Seeking counselling can help children process difficult feelings of grief. Ensure you also keep communication open at all times and let them know that you’re there for them always.

Further resources

Spurgeons Children’s Counselling Services

Winstons Wish | Childhood bereavement charity

This article originally appeared on DAD.Info.

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