Dealing with loss can be difficult, especially for children. Children are, at some point, going to experience loss in their lives, and these losses can range from their pets to grandparents, and are all equally painful experiences.
While you can never fully prepare them for a loss, you can always help them cope. Your love and support during a tough time will go a long way to making your child an emotionally healthy adult.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you’re helping your child deal with loss.
Helping Them Understand It
Kids don’t understand death completely, so their reactions to telling them that their pet or their grandparent or someone they loved has died, may not be the way you expect. Their grief may be delayed. However, giving them the news and explaining it to them is a responsibility the parents should take up:
- Let them know about the death at the soonest. Delaying it may lead to them hearing it from someone else, and leave them unprepared.
- The news should reach them through people who they are close to - ideally, you and your spouse should have a talk with them about it. Avoid talking in a different tone. Speak normally so your child is not scared before they even receive the news.
- Since they don’t understand death properly, try to explain what it means as much as possible. Avoid using words like ‘asleep’ as this can confuse them - children take words literally, and telling them someone is ‘asleep’ can give them false hope.
- Children try to understand things on their own terms. So if your child asks you a lot of questions, try to remain calm and be patient. They need to know that you are ready to help them through this.
Helping Them Emotionally
Dealing with emotions in a healthy way is important. Children don’t know how to cope with their emotions, so guidance from you is important at this stage.
- Let them know that they will start to feel sad and that it’s okay to feel sad. If your child needs to cry, let them know that you’ll be there.
- Don’t worry about crying in front of them. They will be reassured that it is normal for them to cry too.
- Give them affection. Let them know that you love them. It will give them a feeling of security, which they need when they are so uncertain.
- Help your kid express pain in their own way. Whether it is a lot of questions or crying, let them do what they need to feel better.
Finally, help your child understand that people cannot “come back” when they die. Giving your child false hope can be more dangerous than telling them a tough truth. Help your child remember the good memories they had with the deceased. You can tell stories, or look at photos, or mention things that remind you of the person. It’s important that your child doesn’t black out the memories of the person or pretend that nothing has happened.
Symptoms You Should Look Out For
While sadness is normal, you should watch out for your child’s behaviour so that you can avoid issues like depression. Some signs that call for a deeper talk with your child include:
- If your child eats poorly
- If their sleep patterns are disrupted
- If they lose interest in playing and all their favourite activities.
- If they isolate themselves and become anxious, or have low self esteem.
In such cases, talking to your child, or speaking to a specialist is a good idea, one that can help the child move on, cope and get back to their life after the loss.
Children are resilient. They recover eventually. But you should talk to your child on a deeper level if you notice a more prolonged grief. Your little one will eventually learn to understand and cope in his own ways. Just be sure to be a supportive parent who guides them through this sudden change.