It is nearly impossible to protect your child from experiencing loss, but what you can do is learn how to help your child deal with grief. Most children are aware of death, but understand it on different levels. Some might have a deeper understanding of what death might mean, and some might not be ready to understand it fully yet.
Wherever your child might be with understanding death you need to help them feel safe while experiencing loss and grief. While you support your children through these hard times, you need to help them develop their own coping skills to lean on in the future.
Death and loss are never easy to bring up or talk about. Here are some ways to approach grief with your child, and how to help them cope with it.
Encourage An Expression Of Feelings
Don’t ask your child to hold back. Encourage them to express whatever emotion they might be feeling. If they feel sadness, that’s fine, if they have no real emotion to the news, that is fine as well. All children deal with loss differently. You must encourage your child to deal with it in a way that they feel most comfortable.
Take Age Into Account
Older children will have been more exposed to death and loss, whereas it still might be a confusing topic for little ones. Avoid giving your child too much information, and instead let them ask you questions. The concept of forever is hard for a child to understand, so they might not fully take in what death really means.
You will have to explain death differently to a 5-year-old than you would with a 10-year-old. Be mindful of what your child is able to comprehend, and break the news in an age-appropriate way.
Answer questions as honestly and clearly as possible. If you can’t answer everything, that’s fine, just make sure your child feels comfortable being able to approach you with any question they might have.
Be Honest And Direct
When talking to your child about death, be direct and honest about the situation. Don’t use euphemisms, as kids are quite liberal and might take what you say literally. Using euphemisms gets in the way of your child dealing with the death and building on their coping skills for the future.
Talk About An Afterlife
Whether you are religious or not, it is a good idea to talk about an afterlife with your child. If you are religious, talk about where you believe the lost loved one is now resting. If you are not, explain to your child that the loved one lives on in your heart and mind. The afterlife can be incredibly comforting for a child.
Work Through Your Own Grief
It is so important to remember to work through your own grief. Your child will often react to grief the way they see you reacting to it, so express your emotions to show your child that sadness and other feelings are okay. Just remember to not react explosively or uncontrollably, as this does not give your child good coping skills.
You have lost someone as well, give yourself time to grieve and support each other as a family during this time.