How to talk to children about bereavement 

Death is a natural part of life, and yet it can be difficult to understand as a child and overwhelming for an adult to explain. Here are some ideas about how you can speak to your children if someone they care for has recently passed away 

Whether a loved one has been sick or a family member has died suddenly, news of a death almost always comes as a shock. Part of the journey the bereaved go on is making sense of what has happened, and accepting what’s happened. This can be hard for children, who may not have experienced death before, and for very young children, may find it hard to understand that person isn’t going to come back. 

When speaking to your child about the death of a friend or family member, you should try to: 

·       Tell the truth – you need to explain why you are upset yourself, and you are showing them it is okay to feel that way in these circumstances. You will help them understand their own feelings. It’s okay to cry with them. 

·       Use the words ‘dead’ or ‘died’ – although they might feel uncomfortable to say, research shows using these words helps the grieving process. 

·       Drip feed information – just tell them what they need to know at first, and then gauge their response. If they ask questions answer them, if they are quiet they may need time to process. 

·       Be prepared – you may have an idea of how your child will react, but until it happens you just don’t know. They may not cry, or they may be inconsolable. Accept their response and just be there for them. Allow them to express how they feel. 

·       Share your memories – talk about your loved one, tell stores, look at photographs. It’s okay to talk about it will be like without them as well.  

When it comes to the funeral, allow your child to be a part of it. Let them help you pick out the clothes for the deceased, or favourite trinkets to go in the coffin. If you think it’s okay for them to come and see the body, make sure you talk to them first about what they will see so they are prepared. Let them come to the funeral service and share their own stories and feelings at the wake – there is no shame in being upset.  

Between the time that the person dies and the funeral, it will be busy and emotionally challenging for you. Try and keep your regular family routine, and make yourself available for your child. If they want to ask questions or talk, let them. Keep their life consistent – they should still go to school, playgroup, church and spend time with friends.  

Finally, allow yourself to laugh. Tell funny stories about the person who has died, and let yourself relieve those memories with all the positive emotions you felt at the time. Death shouldn’t stop happiness. 

Need professional help? Speak to your FSM professional or social worker if you think you or your child might need some counselling to help with grief.