We all want to protect our kids from any form of hurt or sadness but, since we don’t live in a perfect world, the best we can do is give them the tools to deal with sadness and grief.
Whether it’s the death of a friend or relative, of a pet, a fight with a friend, a lost or broken toy, your family or someone else moving house, sickness or divorce, loss is very much a part of life.
“If you are old enough to love, you are old enough to grieve,” Burstows Funerals co-director Don Burstow advises, adding “explanations provided at the appropriate age-understanding are key”.
Let children know it is okay to be sad, or to feel exactly what they are feeling. Perhaps they feel angry, confused or scared … ask if they would like to talk about it, share your own feelings, and just be there for them.
There is no ‘right’ answer as to whether children should attend a funeral, or at what age. However, according to Don Burstow, “we are best to include and invite (not force) them to participate in ways they are comfortable with”.
“I like to encourage younger ones (and oldies too) to bring something to place in the coffin, be it a note or a drawing.”
Approaching the funeral as a celebration of life, a time for family and friends to unite, remember and give comfort, rather than just a time of sadness or something to be feared, can help all ages to begin to heal.
As adults, we also need to be open to our child hurting and expressing that pain (with tears, poor sleep, being clingy or even acting out through ‘bad’ behaviour), rather than encouraging them to “cheer up”.
Recognise, talk through and reassure the child about what the loss or change will mean to them, especially any fears they may have that they will lose other people or things from their life.
At the same time, both we and our kids need to acknowledge that it is not good, or even possible, to feel sad all the time. Help them to understand that laughing, being silly, or feeling good about something does not mean they love the person they have lost any less.
Psychologists also encourage us to continue to build structure into our children’s days, saying routines are important to help kids feel settled, cared for and in control in times of change.
World renowned grief counsellor Dr. Alan Wolfelt has put together 100 practical ideas to support children through this hard and emotional time in his book ‘Healing Your Grieving Heart for Kids’.
Some of our favourites (and they are not just for kids!) include:
No. 5 – Remember the person who died – Even though he or she can’t be with you anymore, you’ll always have your memories. Talk about the person who died … Look at pictures … Remember the fun times you had together.
No. 22 – Let yourself feel happy – Just because something sad has happened in your life doesn’t mean you should always feel sad. Do something every day that makes you feel happy …
No. 26, 27 and 30 – Draw out your feelings – These 3 ideas encourage kids to put their grief feelings into art, dance or words.
No.36 – Hug – Even though he or she can’t be with you anymore, you’ll always have your memories. Talk about the person who died … Look at pictures … Remember the fun times you had together.
No. 5 – Remember the person who died – It’s amazing how much better you can feel just by hugging someone you love …
No. 59 – List the things that are still good about your life – Sometimes when we’re grieving, we forget about the good things in our lives. But there are tons of them! Make a list right now.
No. 89 – Know that your grief is special – Your grief is yours. No one else will think exactly what you think or feel exactly what you feel. Your grief is special – just like you.