Explaining the loss of a loved one to a child

How?

If you can you should try to deliver the news to a child yourself, and to do it in a place where they feel comfortable and can react in their own way without feeling self-concious.

This can differ depending on the circumstances of the bereavement. For example, if the person had been unwell recently then you can use this to explain what has happened. The child will remember that the last time they saw your loved one they weren’t well or that you had spoken about how the person had been feeling poorly. It might be that you just say that you have some very sad to news to tell them. being honest and reassuring are the 2 most important things to remember.

What?

Children learn a great deal about the world from adults, and failing to explain that a loved one has passed away properly can lead to confusion and embarrassment later down the line. Don’t feel as though you should tell them every detail but you need to be honest and avoid saying things like they have gone away or gone to sleep as this can be very confusing down the line. If  your child ask questions (which should be encouraged) and you feel unable to answer then ask them what they think, as this allows you to get guage how much they know before you answer so that you can avoid upsetting them unnecessarily.

Children can find it very hard to grasp what death is so you need to be prepared and ready for a variety of reactions. This can  be little or no reaction to anger, tears or even being sick. They may want and need to be hugged immediately, or they may not. However, it can help to explain the differences between life and death, for example “Uncle Joe was very ill and now that he has died he doesn’t talk, eat, or breathe anymore but he also is not in any pain” or “when people get very old their bodies stop working, just like when your toy runs out of batteries”. As silly as these explanations can sound they can help a child to understand what has happened.

When?

The days, weeks and months surrounding a loss can be difficult for everyone involved and your child will know that something is wrong. You should try and tell them as soon as you can, delaying it will not make it any easier and can cause issues down the line. You also don’t want to run the risk of them finding out by other means.

If you’ve recently had a bereavement and you are trying to help your child through what has happened then you shouldn’t forget about you and your emotions. It is perfectly ok to show emotions in front of your child and it is normal not to have all the answers. Ask for help from friends, family and school staff, who may be able to support you in such a difficult time.

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