The death of a loved one is an inevitability that everyone must face at some point in their life, and often times we receive our first glimpse of our human immortality during childhood. Whether it be the loss of a grandparent or the loss of the beloved family pet, it can be difficult to understand how to help a child cope with the loss, especially as you are struggling to come to terms with your own grief. Here are three ways to help your child better understand and cope with their loss and begin the journey to healing.
Break the News Gently
Telling a child that a loved one has died is never easy. To make breaking the news as gentle as possible, try to tell them during a quiet moment when the two of you can be alone in a comfortable place where she feels safe. If a family member or pet becomes critically ill, try to prepare your child for the loss ahead of time by talking to her about what is going to happen. This can help her begin to prepare herself for the loss that is going to come.
Be Completely Honest
In an effort to shield children from the hurt and pain of death, some parents downplay the reality of what has happened for their child by telling them that Grandpa went on a long trip or Fido just ran away. As tempting as it is to do this, it is better to be completely honest and open with children about death. Every living thing lives and dies, and this is a life lesson that must be learned and understood. Let her know that death is a natural part of the life cycle and answer any questions she may have, even when they are difficult. You can also share your spiritual beliefs about afterlife with her, which can help to bring comfort.
Encourage Her to Talk About Her Feelings
The death of a loved one can stir up many emotions and your child may experience everything from sadness to anger and guilt. Encourage her to talk openly with you about what she is feeling and let her know that it is OK for her to speak about it with you, her friends, or other adults she trusts. Make sure she understands that there is no wrong or right way for her to feel about the loss and that she should not feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about her feelings.
Talk to Her About Your Own Feelings
Sometimes it can be helpful for grieving children to hear about your own feelings of grief surrounding the death of the loved one. Hearing about the emotions that you are struggling with yourself can help provide comfort and reinforce that the feelings of sadness and anxiety that she is experiencing are perfectly normal emotions that many people feel after experiencing a loss.
Help Her Move On
It is important to help your child heal and begin to move on after the loss of a loved one. Some parents try to shield children from the funeral, but it can be helpful for a child to get to say goodbye and finalize in their mind that their loved one is not coming back. It can also be helpful to talk about your favorite memories spent together with the loved one or to make a scrapbook together with some of your favorite photos and memories of time spent with the loved one. Even having a framed picture to put in their room can help children feel closer to them and help them heal. Talk about the loved often with affection and love. Let your child know that the pain she feels will eventually fade but the wonderful memories and love she shares with her loved one never will. If you become concerned that your child’s sadness is lasting too long or that it is interfering with her regular daily life, you may want to consider seeking the advice of a counselor or therapist or signing her up for a support group where she can share and receive support from peers who are coping with the same things she is.