This article is shared directly from the Marie Curie website exploring the theme ‘talking to children about death’. We hope you find it helpful.
The death of someone close is one of the hardest things anyone has to face. It can be especially difficult to help a child manage their grief while you’re dealing with your own. Talking to a child about death can help them feel better supported and more secure. They may have fears or questions that they’re worried about bringing up.
Children need to know what happened to the person that died. Try to explain in clear, simple language that’s right for their age and level of experience. You might also try giving them information in small amounts at a time, especially to young children, as this can help them understand. Once you’ve explained that someone has died, the details can follow.
It is clearer to say someone has died than to use euphemisms. Avoid explanations such as the person has ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘gone away’. They may make your child frightened to go to sleep or worry when you leave the house you might not come back.
Be prepared for a child to be curious and to ask the same questions again and again. This can be distressing but remember it’s a part of their need for reassurance and helps them process the information.
It’s common for children to feel that the person has died as a result of something they may have said or done. Explain simply how and why they’re not to blame.
To protect children, adults sometimes try to avoid talking about the person who’s died. But the child may want to talk about the person. They need to tell their story and it might help them remember the person who’s died. They had a relationship with the person who died and it was important to them.
Listening to them can help you understand what they know about what happened. You can also correct anything that’s not quite accurate. Listening will also help you understand how the child’s feeling. Avoid telling them what you think they should feel.
When you’re helping a bereaved child, take things one day at a time. If at any time you feel unable to cope remember you don’t have to go it alone. Friends, family, healthcare professionals, teachers at your child’s school and others can all help. There are specialist child bereavement services that you can use and there is also a reading list on the Marie Curie website which includes books about and for grieving children.
You may also be able to get support through a local hospice, including Marie Curie Hospices. Some have counsellors for children and young people. This is usually only available if the person who died was known to the hospice, but it can vary. To find out more, contact your local hospice.
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