Parents and caregivers worry about what to tell the children after a parent dies.
Whether children are asking direct questions or not, they are asking questions of themselves and trying to understand. Without the aid of adults, it is common for misunderstandings and imagining circumstances worse than reality.
A child can’t often let you know what they need when they are grieving. Below is some information to consider when meeting the needs of children who are grieving:
- Children grieve too. They need for those around them to acknowledge their loss directly with them.
- To have support from adults. A child can learn a lot from the grief modelled by a parent or other adults. They learn its ok to be angry (expressed in safe ways), it’s ok to be sad and it’s ok to cry.
- Children need to be included in the grieving process of those around them. To be included in the funeral. To be included in discussions.
- An opportunity and help to understand. It is an adult’s job to start the conversation. The child will engage and ask questions over time. But adults need to provide repeated opportunities to build understanding. Use clear and concrete language, be open and honest. It’s also important to check their understanding, as words taken literally can create confusion.
- Children need to know the death was not their fault. That the parent will always love them and miss them. That there is nothing that they could have done to prevent the death. That they are still wanted.
- To openly talk about the parent who has died. A continuing bond is created by talking and recounting special memories. By not talking about them from fear that it will cause more pain is flawed thinking. Not talking openly sends the message that it’s not ok. The child will then want to protect other adults by not bringing the dead parent up when they need to.
- Have the expectation that the child should and will be affected by the death of a Parent. Grief is often shown in behaviour such as acting out, being aggressive, attention seeking, being loud or hyperactive. Being shy, withdrawn, clingy or not joining in activities. This is normal. Have an expectation that children may act differently and hold this experience for them.
- Routines can be comforting. Organised activities can also help to calm and distract children, and have time off from grieving.
Death is a normal part of the cycle of life. How a child is held through the experience of a death of a Parent will impact future losses.
If you would like to discuss your grieving process or that of a child, then consider making an appointment with a counsellor who specialises in grief and bereavement work. Make an appointment with Bronwyn at Your Path Psychotherapy and Counselling, in her rooms in Remuera, Auckland.
Good Grief Ltd (2008) Picking up the Pieces. A Guide to Supporting Children in Grief. Good Grief Australia.
Kubler-Ross, E and Kessler, D. (2005) On Grief and Grieving. Simon and Schuster, London.
Tonkin, L. (2003) Now What? A Guide for People Living with the Death of Someone Close. John Rhind Funeral Directors, Christchurch NZ.