Children are amazing; they bounce back, and we now know that they can be resilient. However, they are like adults in that their resilience cannot grow without support.
Every child works through loss in their own unique way. Sadly, there is no magic wand that can make the process shorter or necessarily easier. But this information might be able to give you an understanding of supporting children during this difficult time.
It has been researched that children and babies experience a sense of loss when the main care giver is no longer there. Although every child’s development is different, for very young children (pre-school) the understanding of the permanence of death is quite abstract. For primary aged children, they begin to understand the irreversibility of death and teenagers often find it difficult when also coping with adolescence.
Children will need to know they are loved. What else is needed depends on how the child responds; their relationship with the person and the circumstances of the loss. It is normal to be uncertain of what to do. But you know your child better than anyone and grief is a normal response. Provided with love from family and friends many children do not need professional support, but some do.
During a bereavement sharing and talking about the person can be important. Naturally, we want to protect children, but children need information that is appropriate and truthful. Where the truth is absent children may fill in the gaps using their own imagination which could be more damaging.
You know your child better than anyone and you know what language is age appropriate for the child. Children can be very literal and using terms like ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘went away’ can be confusing and misleading to a child. Avoid uncertainty and allow them to process the information. They might have questions, which will guide and direct the conversation and what information they need to fill the gaps in their knowledge. If they repeat the same question to fully understand what is happening, be careful to repeat the same answer to avoid any confusion. Be careful not to overload with information all at once, they will need time to process the news.
Children can respond to atmosphere and will be aware that something is going on, it is important to include them and talk to them. Even talking to children about the saddest of truths is better than clouding the truth leaving the child confused.
A loss may remain with people for life but through support and acceptance you and those around you can learn to live with the loss. There is uncertainty around dealing with a loss of a loved one and often we allow behaviour that wouldn’t normally be acceptable, and this is understandable. There is a general guide that it is best to stick to regular routines as much as possible. The familiar boundaries and routine will make the child feel secure.
Grief can revisit children as they are older as the feelings they had when they were younger change as they grow through life. This experience of grief revisiting is often connected to life events and holiday periods.
Sharing your feelings and grief is good, as it models how to grieve to your children. Children learn how to grieve by observing those around them. If you can share your grief and get support from friends and family or professional support this will give you the space to grieve and be able to have some control when grieving with your children.
In the early days of grief, counselling is usually not what people and children need. Initially children often need the support and love from the adults they know and trust. As time passes the needs of the children may change and some find speaking to a bereavement counsellor supportive.
Looking after yourself and your wellbeing is essential to look after and support your family.Managing and coping with your life, family and grief can be exhausting. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s protecting you and your family.
If you have any questions or seek support and guidance call Liverpool Bereavement Service on: 0151 236 3932.