Children who are old enough to love are old enough to grieve.
When a loved one dies, children may not have the words to express how they may be feeling; the death of a loved one brings heartbreak and devastation, they may feel:
To my parent or carer, please…
Some of our bereavement group members have come up with a list of suggestions about how parents and carers can support their bereaved child. You may find some of these helpful:
- Talk things through with me in an open and honest way, remembering to listen to me.
- How can I be included in the funeral, what things can I do on the day that will help me to say goodbye. Include me and give me choices.
- Phone my school and inform them about what’s happened. Arrange a meeting so I can identify a member of staff who will be willing to support me throughout the day. Let me go back to school the same week if that’s what I want to do.
- Allow me to say how I feel and do not be offended if I am angry with you or do not want to talk.
- Please take into consideration that I may not grieve in the same way as you or my siblings.
- If I look like I’m feeling lonely please ask me how I’m feeling.
- Remind me that I am not to blame and that it’s not my fault.
- Help me to remember my loved one. Talk to me about the happy times we shared. Help me not to forget my special person.
- Let me keep something that belonged to my special person. Remind me that it’s important to keep it in a safe place.
- Hug me, just hug me so I feel safe.
- Tell me I’m doing nothing wrong when laughing and having fun. Tell me it doesn’t mean I’m forgetting about my loved one.
- Tell me it’s normal to feel jealous of my friends who still have both parents.
- Allow me time to be on my own, sometimes I may just need some time out.
- If you see that I’m struggling in a way that I’m inflicting pain on myself, help me, talk to me about where we can get help and please don’t feel like you have failed as a parent.
How should I explain death to my children?
Offer the facts in a simple, honest, straightforward, non-threatening, caring way. Talking to your child about the death of a loved one may be one of the hardest things you will ever do or have ever done.
- Be honest, and keep it simple. Don’t let your children find out the important details about what happened over Facebook or other social networking sites.
- Ask questions, find out what the child already knows about death.
- Encourage children to share their thoughts and fears about what is happening.
- Don’t hide your own feelings. If you suspect that your child or young person is deliberately hiding their feelings in order to protect you, explain to them that they do not need to do this and encourage them to talk about how they truly feel rather than bottling things up to spare your feelings.
It is important to avoid offering explanations of death such as ‘gone away’ or ‘gone to sleep’ that may cause misunderstandings and confusion.
Lewis wasn’t sleeping, he found it really difficult to settle at bedtime. He would throw huge tantrums and often lash at his parents. One evening he blurted out “what if I never wake up, what if I die in my sleep like Nan did” – Nan died of cancer and parents thought it was best to tell Lewis that she went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Lewis was scared to go to sleep in case he wouldn’t wake up.
Explain what dead means: “Nan died. Her heart stopped beating and she couldn’t breathe anymore. Nan doesn’t need to eat no more, she cannot see, hear or move, and she cannot feel pain. Being dead is not the same as sleeping. All your body parts work when you are sleeping. When a person dies, their body has stopped working”
Should I let my child see their loved one?
Parents may be concerned that seeing a dead body may frighten and cause further harm – this is unlikely to be the case, especially if the children have been prepared for what to expect. Be open and honest with your children. Parents may not be aware that one of the most helpful things they can do for their children during this time is to give them choices.
At what age should children attend a funeral?
One of the most frequently asked questions by parents, caregivers and people who support bereaved children and young people is, “Should I take my child to the funeral?” When deciding whether your child should attend a funeral or memorial service, age is not the most important consideration. Your child is part of the family, and children who are old enough to love are old enough to grieve. Going to a funeral can help children understand the finality of death and joining family and friends in saying goodbye.
No child is too young to attend a funeral, provided that the child is prepared and guided through the whole process. Parents try to protect their children through upset however shutting children out makes them feel alone. Children who are not allowed to attend a funeral may feel they didn’t get their chance to say goodbye however, children who are forced to attend a funeral may feel resentful. Children should not be criticized if they don’t want to attend the funeral. They may regret the decisions they make, Talk with your children about:
What… is going to happen?
Who… will be at the funeral or memorial service?
Where… will the service take place?
When… will the funeral happen?
Why… are we doing this?
If your funeral director provides such a service, he or she may be willing to meet with the children to explain what happens before and after a funeral.
Other ways to remember
Children, and their parents, often worry that they will forget things about loved ones who have died. But after a death there are many ways that children and families can remember loved ones.
Parents of Once Upon A Smile have come up with 10 ways to remember loved ones on special days:
- Visit the grave or the place where their ashes are buried or scattered
- Listen to their favourite music
- Make a memory box
- Have their favourite meal
- Write a special message on a helium balloon and let it go into the sky
- Write a letter or a poem
- Light a candle
- Share memories with family members
- Plant a tree or a flower in their memory
- Look over photos and remember the happy times shared
Discussing a loved one
Sometimes children think that they should not discuss loved ones who have died because it might make others sad. But if loved ones aren’t talked about it can be hard for children to remember them. Help support your children by discussing loved ones in everyday conversations, in passing and as the subject of conversation, this will greatly support them. If others find it too hard to discuss the deceased then maybe this is the point to seek additional support.
Support for you
If you require financial or respite support for you and your children we may be able to help you. Supporting a bereaved child can be exhausting and bewildering, particularly if you are grieving yourself.