Tell the truth about what happened right away. Being open and emotional could help your child learn how to mourn. Make sure you have your own emotions under control when you bring up the topic. Avoid talking about it when you are stressed, tired or upset. Also, try not to look uncomfortable when answering their questions. This may create an impression that talking about these things is wrong or not allowed. If you don’t have answers to their questions, say so.
Cry. Cry together. Cry often
It’s healthy and healing. However, if your feelings about death are still too raw, your child may be more upset by your feelings than the death itself hence the need to talk about it when you are clearheaded.
Be clear and direct
Try to come to the topic with a clear and open mind. Use the words ‘dead’ or ‘died’ since using phrases such as ‘passed away’ instead of ‘died’ may leave them confused. Research also shows using realistic words helps in the grieving process. Having short conversations is easier than long sessions, that is, give information in small bits at a time depending on what your child can handle.
Let your child grieve in their own way
It’s also natural for children to feel lonely and thus isolate themselves at this time. It’s also common for children to seem unaffected by the loss. There is no right way to grieve. Accept whatever feelings or emotions your child has towards death. Let your child know that it is okay to feel sad, happy, confused or angry. No matter how your child feels, reassure them that they are safe and cared for.
Understand your child’s development level
Know that children and young people grieve in a more sporadic manner and their feelings may change abruptly. Be watchful and alert for any signs that they are trying to communicate in unexpected ways, for example, through play or drawing. They may also have nightmares.
For children, like adults, the concept of one never coming back can scare them and rightly so especially if they depended on the deceased for one thing or another. They may also wonder if you too will die. You can reassure them by telling them you are still around and in case that does not happen, there will be someone to take care of them such as an aunt or even their grandparents.
Let them know what will happen at the funeral home and service
It’s important for your children to have a picture of the events that follow following the death of a loved one. For instance, there will be many people visiting the home during the mourning period. Explain what a casket is and tell them that their loved one will be in there. So as not to scare them, let them know what people will be doing during the funeral such as crying and wailing. It’s advisable that you assign a caregiver to your children as you may be too distraught yourself to mind them.
Raise the question when it’s relevant
You can make the concept of death more relatable to your child by speaking about it when an opportunity comes up. For example, you could be watching a cartoon or playing a video game and one of the character dies, use the chance to explain to them what death is. You can also use dead animals or insects to bring the point closer home. Let them know early on that death is inevitable. If you believe in life after death, you can reassure them that you will be reunited in heaven.
Reach out to someone
Understandably, it may be difficult to talk about the loss of a loved one when the wound is still so raw. In such a case, you can ask for additional support. This could be a relative, friend, church leader or even a trained psychologist. Children have a special bond with their teachers, so you can reach out to their class teacher to talk about death to them.
Try not to interrupt their schedule
Children thrive inconsistency. They find security in doing things they are used to do. As difficult as it may be, try to maintain their daily routine. Ensure they also participate in activities they are used to such as school and other social events. Be that as it may be, let them know that the deceased will not be present during birthdays, anniversaries and special moments but you will make it worthwhile nonetheless.