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Children and
young people grieve just as deeply as adults, but they show it in different
ways. They learn how to grieve by mirroring the responses of the adults around
them. They rely on adults to provide them with what they need to support them
in their grief.

The
following information could help if your child has lost a loved one or if a
loved one is dying.

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Talking to a
young child about death and dying is incredibly difficult and can feel just too
hard to do. This is compounded by an adult’s natural instinct to protect
children from the tough things in life. In order to make some sense of what has
happened children need information and explanations. These need to be honest,
simple, and in language the child understands.

Children can
deal with the truth, no matter how difficult or traumatic, what they find hard
are the untruths. When circumstances surrounding the death are particularly
distressing it may be tempting to withhold information, but even in those
instances the same principles apply.

Children’s
understanding of death at different ages

Children are naturally good at dipping in and out of
their grief. They can be intensely sad one minute, then suddenly switch to
playing happily the next. This apparent lack of sadness may lead adults to
believe children are unaffected. However, this “puddle-jumping” is a type of
in-built safety mechanism that prevents them being overwhelmed by powerful
feelings.

As children get older, this instinctive “puddle-jumping”
becomes harder and teenagers may spend long periods of time in one behaviour or
another (Child Bereavement UK).

For a young
person, getting on with life might mean a hectic social schedule as their way
of shutting out the pain. Or they may withdraw into themselves, rejecting
offers of help and being generally very hard to communicate with. They may be
feel resentment or guilt about the loved one they have lost. If this is the
case, try to stick with it and continue to let a teenager know that you are
still there for them. However, try not to put them under pressure to talk.

The
difference between adult and child grief is sometimes illustrated by the
following: a child jumps in and out of puddles of grief, but an adult is deep
in a river, being swept along with the current, finding it very difficult to
get out (Child bereavement UK).

The relationship the child or young person had with the
person who has died will affect the depth of the grief the child shows.  How the person died may also be significant.

 

 

Viewing a
body with a child

Children usually view bodies to say goodbye, or to gain
reassurance that the body is at peace, especially if the death was in traumatic
circumstances. They tell us that this helps to put their minds at rest and that
the real thing, however difficult, is never as bad as imagined thoughts and
unanswered questions. For many, it helps them start to understand the reality
of what being dead means.

Be guided by what feels right for you and your children, but
it can help to talk things through with someone from outside the family.                                                                                                                    
The Child Bereavement UK Support and Information Line 01494 568900
offers impartial guidance.

Explaining funerals, burial and cremation to children

When someone
dies, most people gain some comfort from an opportunity to say goodbye at the
Funeral.  It is no different for
children. As long as they have been prepared and given the choice to be there,
or not, they find it a helpful experience.

A very young child, toddler, or even a baby can be there
with the rest of the family. Although they will not understand at the time, it
is when older that children appreciate knowing that along with everyone else
they were a part of this important event.

If your children choose not to attend, or being there is
not possible for them, remember that there are other alternatives.  You could decide together to have a private
family farewell or do something special to remember the person who has died.

 

Practical tips:

Reassure the child or young person that it is not their
fault.

Show them that it is ok to be upset; let them show their
feelings and fears.

Create stability by continuing with some existing
routines such as play dates and clubs.

Understand that they haven’t forgotten about it if they
appear happy and carefree.

Don’t be surprised if they do things they had grown out
of e.g. bedwetting, temper tantrums or refusing to go to school.

Watch for signs of depression

Let your child take the time they need to grieve.

Create traditions and ways of remembering

 

 

 

 

Things to do that could help

Making a memory
box with the child

If you’re a parent and you know you’re going to die,
Sarah suggests thinking about making a memory box to give to your child, or
making one together.

This is a box containing things that remind you both of
your time together. It can provide an important link between you and your child
once you’ve gone.

Macmillan Cancer Support has information about making a
memory box.

 

Pre-bereavement counselling gives the child a chance to think
and talk about their feelings and share their worries.

 

Looking after yourself is essential

The first step to supporting a grieving child or young
person is to get support for yourself. It is not a sign of weakness or not
being able to cope if you seek help from others. Don’t expect too much of
yourself – managing life and your own grief, at the same time as trying to
support a child or young person, is exhausting.

Talking through your feelings

It may be enough to talk with family or close friends. Or
you may find it helpful to get dedicated bereavement support, either one-to-one
or in a group.

Joining a group can be particularly helpful, as you can talk
to other people in the same situation. The Sue Ryder Online Community is an
online support group that’s available 24/7 from anywhere you can get online.

If you feel that you don’t want to talk, it is important to
find other ways to manage your feelings.

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