Death is a common theme in the media, however experiencing grief firsthand can be confusing and difficult for kids. How our kids deal with loss also depends on how close they were to the person, how often they spent time with that person and what support they received from that person.
As a parent, you want to protect your child from the pain of loss and help them feel safe, loved and supported. It is important to remember that one of your first responsibilities in this process is to have our own emotions in check so we can be attentive, present and responsive to our kids during this time.
There are many types of loss, like moving house or school, or losing something precious to them, the loss of a pet, the breakdown of a marriage. Regardless of the type of loss, every experience is so different and individual and having the capacity to deal with our kids through emotional moments can be an opportunity to connect and teach your child about caring, feeling safe, how to communicate, manage and express their emotions and behavioural responses. It is good to encourage our kids to express their feelings and thoughts, which will help them in building healthy coping skills that will benefit them as they get older.
It is always important to tell your child the truth about the situation. Hiding information from them can lead to mistrust and reluctance to turn to you for support in the future.
Keep the language you use simple. To minimise confusion avoid making abstract statements. Keep the language age-appropriate and clear. There are also some wonderful storybooks on bereavement available to assist.
Kids are naturally curious, so when they express their worries and fears, listen well, be patient, accepting and responsive. Emphasise that they are not alone and will be supported for as long as they require. Also be aware of their behaviours, as they can’t always communicate their feelings in words. Common reactions could include fighting, mood swings, self-blame, fear of being alone, nightmares, clinginess and physical complaints like tummy aches or headaches.
Sometimes holding a ceremony may be helpful for them to express and acknowledge how they feel. Planting a tree, lighting a candle or collecting keepsakes are a few ways they can participate in saying goodbye to a loved one.
You may not consider your own emotions and feel this is best to protect your child or be a strong role model. By modelling that you are also sad and explaining your feelings can also help kids to understand their own feelings. Providing authentic support and coping skills will also help them deal with future loss more easily. Along with maintaining a regular routine and helping them feel normal and grounded throughout the grieving process.
The Northern Centre offers a range of parenting programs that provide parents with the extra skills needed to help with raising their families. Government funding means many of the programs are delivered at no cost. They can also offer childcare for the duration of the program (booking essential). For more information on the courses offered by The Northern Centre you can contact them at:
Phone: 9334 0111
Hours: Mon, Tue, Wed and Fri 8.30am – 4.30pm, Thu 8.30am – 7.30pm