What do you do when your child experiences death and grief?
Grief and loss are such complex issues with children.
The death of a parent - Mom or Dad, perhaps a relative or Grandparent, even a friend, will affect your child.
You may find your child regresses, is sad all the time, stops talking, or perhaps they are angry and lashing out.
There are so many factors to deal with grief in children, that it is helpful to have a professional oversee them, this might be a GP, counsellor, psychologist or minister.
If you find your child is showing some of the emotions and signs in this picture above, you will benefit by implementing these strategies to support your child.
1. Assure your child, that what has happened is not their fault. They may be holding onto guilt that they caused this death.
2. Still talk about the deceased person and the memories they had together.
Your child may not want to talk about the person, you may cry when they do and they don't want to upset you.
Perhaps your child thinks they are not allowed to remember or speak about the happy memories.
You need to give them permission to share those memories if they choose.
3. Make a special memory box with each child - let them put special items in memory box.
They might add some photos, draw a picture for the person that has died, put a piece of clothing in (if you still have it) then they can smell that person on the clothing and feel near to them still.
Your child may choose to include a journal where they write and talk to their special person.
Their memory box is the perfect place for putting cards and activities they make at school, especially on days like Father's Day.
4. Verbalize your emotions - I am feeling sad at missing Nan or today I am angry that Dad is not here.
This will model to your children words and emotions they can use.
Acknowledging and helping to name their emotions and feelings is very empowering.
It also shows your child that it is ok to be angry or sad.
Remember to tell your child how you are coping and what helps when you feel a certain way.
5. Remember to support and comfort your child during this time of grief.
Reassure them and allow them to talk about this loss as much as they need to.
Answer any questions as openly and honest as you can.
Provide age appropriate responses for them.
Remember you know your child best.
6. Talk to your child and discuss that they are loved and will always be cared for.
They might be frightened that you will die too.
Be patient with your child.
Their behavior may change as they adjust and process the loss.
You may need to tell them several times and even different ways so they can grasp what has happened.
7. Grief can be all encompassing and your child may feel guilty for feeling happy and going on with life.
Encourage them that is OK to have fun, feel happy at times, and to play.
Reminding your child that is fine to be happy when they remember a good memory of the person is helpful to show them how to balance the waves of grief.
8. Encourage your children to spend time with their friends and cousins.
This is important to keep things familiar and as routined as before their loss.
Going to school, feeding and walking the pets, regular meal times and doing chores are part of their new life too.
The normal-ness of life helps provide security for your child.
9. Create a visual routine for the fridge or cupboard - things that your children are doing in the day.
Show the visual calendar for a week at a time.
It will help your children see what is coming for the week, and helps with things to prepare themselves for.
A visual schedule helps to maintain normal routine and is also wonderful as it includes things to look forward to.
You will find that a visual timetable helps create a sense of security too, because life has been so different with their loved one gone.
10. If your child wants to talk - just listen to them.
They may not need answers.
You might find they simply want to talk about their worries and thoughts.
Make sure your child knows they can talk to you or another trusted adult or family member, at any time they need.
Some children find it better to write down their thoughts rather than speak them.
11. Find ways that will help your child express their feelings.
This may include playing, drawing, music, writing and art.
They might like to light a candle to remember the person.
When your child is unable to put words to their emotions, finding creative outlets helps release those strong emotions.
12. When do you worry about your child?
There is no right amount of time to grieve, it is such an individual process. Not all children need counselling.
Continue to communicate and touch base with them regularly. If you notice your child's grief is compounding over six months or are concerned about your child, please seek professional help.
Some ongoing signs in your child that might cause to seek help are:
Withdrawing from others
Worrying that their world is unsafe
Anger, moodiness or irritability
Lack of appetite
Ongoing behavioral issues
Regression of baby behavior - bedwetting or thumb sucking
Teens using alcohol or drugs to numb the pain, or function normally
Avoiding playing with friends
13. An important part of grieving is to also allow yourself time to grieve and have some support for you too.
This is a journey for your family and there is no right answer or way to handle grief.
You will find that you children process and deal with this differently to their siblings.
Reach out and connect with us when you need support and help.