Have you ever experienced the death of a loved one? Did you struggle with figuring out how to approach the topic of death with your children? Basic Funerals is proud to collaborate with Dr. Stephanie Greenham. We appreciate Stephanie’s insight in regards to talking to children about death.
This is especially important if the death of a loved one is followed by some changes in your everyday life. “It is important to try to keep to your child’s regular routine as much as possible, as this will provide predictability and a sense of security.” says Doctor Stephanie Greenham, clinical child psychologist. However, if your daily routine is changing is any way, make sure you outline exactly what will be happening to your child and why. This eliminates any uncertainty on their part and makes them feel more comfortable with the situation. For example, “Aunt Laura will pick you up from school everyday just like Grandma used to.” Or, “I will be staying with Grandpa for a few days this week so you and Dad will be home taking care of each other. But I’ll talk to you every day and I’ll be home on Saturday.”
Receive and Comfort
There is no universal salve for a child’s grief. As you know, every child is different and as a result, every child will react differently to hearing the news that a loved one has passed. Some children may cry, others may ask questions, and some may seem to have no reaction at all. What you need to remember is that every reaction is OK. Stay with your child and offer hugs and reassurance. Answer their questions and just be together for a few minutes.
Use Simple Language: Clarity is paramount when breaking the news to a child. Approach them in a caring way and use simple words that are direct and effective. For instance; “I have some sad news to tell you. Grandma died today.” Then pause to give your child a moment to process your words.
Let Your Child Have a Role
Providing your child with a role no matter how small can give them an active area to focus their emotional energy. Consider letting them read a poem, pick a song to be played, gather some photos to display, or make something. Let them decide if and how they want to take part.
Parents often bottle up their feelings for fear of upsetting their child further. This is especially true with feelings of grief. Encourage your kids to say what they’re thinking and feeling in the days, weeks, and months following the loss. It is helpful for you to talk about your own feelings as well because it helps kids become aware of, and comfortable with, their own. Say things like, “I know you’re upset about grandma. I’m upset, too. We both loved her so much and she loved us too.”
Talk About the Process
Don’t force a child to participate or attend the funeral if they are too scared. It is important to allow your children to participate in the planned funeral arrangements only if they are comfortable with that. Explain to them ahead of time exactly what is going to happen and reassure them that’s it’s ok to feel sad. For example, “Lots of people who loved Grandma will be at the funeral. We will sing, pray, and talk about her wonderful life. People might cry and hug. People will say things like, ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ or, ‘My condolences.’ Those are polite and kind things to say to the family at a funeral. You can stay near me and hold my hand if you want.” In the case that you want to explain what burials and cremations are to your child be sure to emphasize the fact that it is a special ceremony. Take the appropriate amount of time to share your family’s beliefs about what happens to a person’s soul or spirit after death.
Channel the Good Memories
It is always a good idea to let your child draw on the positive memories they have of their loved one. In the days and weeks surrounding the death, be sure to encourage them to draw pictures or write down their favourite stories. Talk about the person who died as much as you can. The acts of recalling and sharing happy memories help heal grief and encourage positive feelings.
Respond to Emotions
Take notice of how your child is feeling. If they seem sad, worried, or upset ask about their feelings and listen. It is important to let your child know that it takes time to feel better after a loved one dies. It is completely normal for some kids to temporarily experience trouble concentrating or sleeping or to have fears or worries. There are various groups and counselors who can help your kids if they need more support.
Grief is a process that happens over time. Engage in regular conversations with your child to see how they are feeling. It is imperative to remember that healing doesn’t mean you have to forget about your loved one. It means that you need to remember the person with love and honour the important role that they played in your life.
Allow yourself and your children to feel good. Let them know it is acceptable to still feel happy and enjoy things, even while they are missing their loved one. Provide them with the comfort they need but don’t dwell on sad feelings. After a few minutes of talking and listening, shift the tone of the conversation or suggest an activity that will help them feel a little better. You can go out somewhere, see a movie, bake, etc.
Dr. Stephanie Greenham, C.Psych. is a clinical child and adolescent psychologist with over 20 years of experience working with children, youth and their families in various hospital, school, and community practice settings in and around the Ottawa area.