Most children are aware of death, but they might not fully understand it. Even if it is a common theme in cartoons and television, experiencing grief first-hand is a different and confusing process for kids. As parents, it’s definitely a tough time to go through and you might feel helpless that you can’t protect your child from the pain of loss.
However, what you can do is to make them feel safe. By allowing and encouraging them to express their feelings, you can help your child to build healthy coping skills. Whether the loss is a grandparent, a parent, or even a classmate, here are some tips to help you on what to say and how to help your child grief.
Encourage to share their feelings
It is good for children to express the emotions they are feeling. You can start with children’s books that cover topics on death – reading them together can be a great way to start a conversation with your child. Children may also have difficulties expressing their emotions through words, so you can suggest other healthy outlets like drawing, looking through photo albums, putting together a scrapbook, or telling stories.
Be developmentally appropriate
It is difficult to tell how your child will react to death, or whether they can grasp the concept. Depending on their age, you don’t have to volunteer too much information as this can get overwhelming for them to process. Keep explanations shorter, simpler and more direct when answering their questions. Often, younger kids also don’t realise that death is permanent – so avoid using euphemisms and explain to them in a compassionate way.
Maintain normal routines whenever possible
Grief is a long process, so children can benefit from the security of regular routines. These can help to normalise things for them and make them feel more secure. The familiarity of routines brings comfort and can offer them a break from their worries, knowing that life goes on.
Attending the funeral
Funerals are helpful for saying goodbye to a loved one and providing closure, but some children may not be ready to go through such an intense experience. It must be said that they shouldn’t be forced to attend. If your child indicates that they want to do, prepare them on what they will expect to see during the funeral service, for instance – people dressed in dark colours, some might be crying, while others carry out religious Buddhist funeral customs to pay their respects.
During this time, it’s also important to take care of your own grief before you are able to tend to your child’s needs. Children will often imitate the grieving behaviour of their parents – so show them a good example. Grieving takes time. However, if your child is showing signs like ongoing behaviour problems, withdrawal from others, anxiety for more than 6 months, it’s crucial to seek professional help to overcome their grief.