As parents, our natural instinct is to protect our children, from everything that’s wrong or anything that might cause them harm. Death and loss of life is extremely difficult to deal with for us adults as well, and naturally, children too, are aware of it, even though they might not react or understand it completely.
It is very important to help children develop healthy coping mechanisms at this very early stage, and learn how to deal with death and its associated grief.
Let it Out
Encourage your child to express his feelings and grief, and do it yourself as well. Teaching your children to be ‘mature’ and encouraging them to bottle up their emotions and put on a strong face is only going to make things worse. Remember that every child grieves differently and it is okay for him to be emotional and sensitive.
When it comes to discussing death, make sure you’re always open and direct and use the right words to explain. Telling your child that their grandma ‘went to sleep’ or using other such euphemisms can cause your child to develop fears, and he may end up feeling scared to go to bed. Be literal when you’re explaining about death, but make sure you do it in a caring way.
Be There Always
I’m sure you will all agree that this one’s the golden rule of parenting, make sure you’re always always there for your child, no matter what. Every child has their own different way of reacting and dealing with death, some may cry, others may go into their shell and some others may keep asking questions, there’s no right or wrong there. Be there to comfort, answer his questions and help him every step of the way through the difficult process.
Put emotions into words
Emotions can be really difficult to get to grips with and when you are going through grief, you feel an abundance of emotions. It’s important to support your child to understand these and that it is fine to feel sad or even happy at times and to keep talking openly about how he feels. Saying things such as ‘I feel sad about Grandma but it is lovely to think back about the happy memories such as her taking you to the fair’ can support the child to not block out feelings but think about the more positive times.
Comfort & Reassure
In the initial days after the death, you may find your child need more comfort and reassurance than ever. He may become withdrawn or suddenly become extra clingy. Be there to respond. Help him understand his feelings better and offer your support in helping him heal. Take him out, enroll him for a new class in some extra-curricular activity and try simple ways to make him deal with the loss and understand that life has to go on.
Find an Outlet
An excellent way to help children cope with loss is to help them find their outlet. Have them spend some time reading books or encourage them to draw or paint whatever is in their minds. Help them find ways to express themselves creatively, this can help them a lot when they are going through a tough time and aren’t able to find words to express themselves. Also check out local groups that you can access, I know one of the play centres near me offer monthly grief sessions for children going through this.