This Saturday is ‘Dying to Know Day’, organised by The Groundswell Project which aims to promote resilience and wellbeing in response to end of life issues and to encourage people to build their death literacy.
As I am passionate about exactly this, I decided to take the opportunity to share with you some ways that you can help children cope with their grief by understanding death. I have practical experience in this area, and what is written below is the result of my learnings in helping my children come to terms with the death of their Pa, and also as a result of the advice that friends have been seeking when confronted with the loss of their own parents or grandparents.
I hope that you find some help in the information below.
Talking about death always feels uncomfortable only because we’re not used to it. It’s something that we hope we will never have to do, despite the fact that we know it is inevitable. The best thing you can do for your children it to be open and honest about your understanding of death. Tell them what you believe and know for certain, but also let them know what you are not sure about. The most important thing to communicate to them is that yes death is sad, but it is a natural part of life. Everything in the world is born and then dies.
Importantly, acknowledge their sadness and don’t try to stop them from expressing their grief. We all deal with things differently.
Depending upon the age of your children you might like to do the following:
- Read them a picture book about that touches on the topic of loss and grief. Ask you local bookstore owner or librarian for recommendations. Here’s an example of a book which is great in helping understand why grandparents die.
- Create a shrine for the loved one who you have lost. This does not have to be religious, however, can incorporate religions icons if this is helpful and meaningful to your child. I have a photograph of my father and it is surrounded by tea light candles and incense burners. The children have added their collection of precious rocks and crystals to it. We light the candles and incense each night.
- Be open with your grief. Cry in front of them because it lets them see that expressing emotion is a natural and normal part of life.
- Plant a seed in the garden. Water it and watch it grow and bloom. Watch it also and acknowledge when the plant’s life is over and it has gone back into the ground.
- Find a photo of the loved one at various ages in their life. Show them as they grow and mature and talk about the fact that although their body changed, they were the same person all along.
- Allow them to draw pictures of them with their loved one, or to draw how they are feeling.
- If you are worried that your child is experiencing extended grief, and is not coping, please find a grief counsellor in your local area. They are trained and specifically help you with this.
The video below is by Caitlin Doughty and she explains how to talk to children about death, especially if there has been coverage in the media about the death of children through school massacre, or terrorist acts. Please note the video is NOT for children- for parents. If the video image is not present, please reload the page in your browser.
This video is for children. It is Sesame Street- helping Big Bird understand that Mr Hooper is never coming back. He died.
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