How To Help Little Ones Cope With The Loss Of A Loved One
STORY: Priyanka Elhence
10 October 2020
Dealing with death is a hard thing even for most adults, so helping young children understand and cope with the loss of a loved one can be equally difficult. So in light of World Mental Health Day today, we thought we’d examine this difficult topic.
Death is a common theme in cartoons and books for young readers, so most little kids are aware of death from a very early age – even if they don’t fully understand its implications. As a parent, you can’t protect your child from the pain of losing a loved one (relative, pet or even friend), but there are a few things that you can do to help your child better cope with feeling safe and processing their feelings during this difficult time.
1. Understand that children grieve differently from adults
Grief is hard on everyone, but kids don’t have the same emotional self-regulation skills that adults do. Little children can go from being in tears one moment, to being happy and normal the next. Sometimes, children also express anger at the dead person, as they feel that the person was selfish and unfair in ‘leaving them’.
2. Break the news gently but honestly
If possible, the person delivering the sad news should be the person closest to the child, someone he trusts and feels comfortable with. The younger the child, the more literal is his comprehension, so avoid using words such as ‘passed away, he’s gone, we lost him’ and other such euphemisms. Talk to young children frankly to avoid confusion or to scare them any further.
3. Keep it simple
Too much information can also overwhelm little kids, so let them ask the questions and you follow their lead as honestly as possible.
4. Encourage them to express their feelings
Being able to cope with loss in a healthy manner is an invaluable skill to teach your young child, so encourage him to speak honestly about their feelings. Likewise, don’t hide your grief either; children are more open with their own feelings when they see you being honest about yours.
5. Reassure your child it is normal to be upset
Sometimes younger children are so upset with the loss of a loved one that they might temporarily regress back to bed wetting again or have trouble sleeping. Reassure your child that it takes time to stop feeling sad and give him time to heal in a healthy and emotionally supportive way.
6. Commemorate the person together
Painful as it may be, remembering a loved one is part of grieving and part of healing, as sharing happy memories helps heal grief. Help your child memorialise who died by remembering their good qualities, putting up photos of them and remembering happy memories with them. Such positive steps will help your child understand that it’s healthy to remember someone in a good way.
7. Maintain normal routines as much as possible
Young children love routine, and a regular schedule gives children the security that life goes on. Stick to a normal routine to keep your child’s life as normal as possible too. Having daily distractions will also help your child manage the loss of a loved one better too.