It can feel very difficult to talk to children about death, whatever their age, especially if it is someone close to them. It is an inevitable fact of life, however, and there is a risk that if not properly handled, the child or young person may actually find the experience more distressing and even harmful.
Here are a few ‘dos and don’ts’ to consider;
DO – Communicate promptly and clearly
Be upfront about what has happened straight away. Sensing you and others are upset without knowing why is only likely to confuse and upset them. Use clear language, not euphemisms such as ‘crossed over’, ‘went to sleep’ or ‘lost’.
DON’T – Hide your own grief
Hiding your grief may well give a child the message it is not normal or health to cry or feel sad after a loss.
DO – Be honest
Children being children are likely to ask all sorts of questions, and it is impossible to be prepared for all of them. These can range from very practical questions to those of a more spiritual or philosophical nature. It is fine to say that you don’t know the answers.
DON’T – Change your routine
Whilst the time following a loss can be busy, children need consistency. Keep to daily routines, including attendance at school, as much as possible
DO – Accept their reaction
Children will not necessarily react as you expect them to. They may immediately be upset and distressed, even angry. Equally they may initially show a limited response and take time to process what has happened. Whatever their reaction, let them know it is OK.
DON’T – Avoid laughter or talking about the person
Laughter is a great healing tool. Being able to share memories or moments with your loved one signals just how important their presence was.
DO – Look after yourself
Not just for your sake but for the child’s. Children learn from what they see and will benefit from seeing you role model self-care.