Children and Grief
November 18th is Childhood Grief Awareness Day. To mark it, we have published this exclusive extract from The Vilomah Pregnancy Loss Journal on helping children when you are both grieving.
Speaking to children about death is difficult. As adults we want to shield them from the upset and pain a loss will cause. But there is no way to protect them from every difficult and sad event in their lives. Opening up is vital. Once you start be prepared to have many conversations, as children need time to process and take in this information. It wont be a single chat, but an ongoing discussion.
To begin with, pick a time when the child is not tired or hungry and when you are not rushed and you have somewhere quiet to talk. Showing your own emotions in front of children demonstrates that it is healthy to be upset and that they are safe to express their own emotions.
Use clear language such as “dead” and “died”. Terms such as “sleeping” or “gone” can confuse and frighten children. Young children do not understand that death is permanent, and you might be asked why a person can’t come back.
Involving children in the rituals also can help, encourage them to draw a picture for your baby, or pick out a teddy or flowers to have with them. Ask them if they want to attend the service if you plan on having one, and explain to them what to expect and answer any questions they may have about it. Try to maintain their usual routine if possible, that is often a huge comfort to children.
There are lots of children friendly books to help speaking with children about death which can be a really helpful resource for families. Child friend books can be used as often as needed to help the child/children understand and process their loss.
Be prepared to speak about death and emotions often over the coming days, weeks and months. Children tend to re-ask a lot of the same questions or want to go back over details. While it can be difficult and emotionally draining at times it will lessen over time and honesty is vital. Remember to check in, to reassure and to comfort them, even if they seem like they are coping really well. Children, especially older children, might try to be strong for you so as not to add to your distress.
Don't be too hard on yourself, you're grieving too and nobody can handle every interaction perfectly. Just do your best to be honest, loving and empathetic.
Visit the Irish Childhood Bereavement Network for more information.