Children and Grief
Death and grief are inescapable, and we are here to help you to understand how to best support children through their grief, and to help them heal.
Children and Grief
If you feel ill-prepared to discuss death with a child, you are not alone. Many of us hesitate to talk about dying and death, even with adults. But death and grief are inescapable, and we are here to help you to understand how to best support children through their grief, and to help them heal.
At Smith's, we spend a lot of time listening to what families and experts have to say regarding a healthy grieving process for children. Today, experts agree that the healthiest approach is to include children in funeral rituals. As Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross once said, “If they are old enough to love, they are old enough to grieve.”
Funerals can be extremely difficult for adults, let alone children who may not have ever experienced loss or are fully able to understand it. But at a very early age, children have an awareness of and a response to death. It’s natural for parents to want to protect their children from everything, especially the harsh reality of death, but death is a part of life – it is a reality. And denying children an opportunity to be part of remembering and saying goodbye shuts them out of an event that can help them grow. A child’s fantasies about death and burial can also be dispelled by the reality of the funeral service which will help him or her develop a healthy and realistic attitude about death. How children grieve and participate in the rituals of your family will help determine how they will face future sorrows.
What you say to a child about death will depend on his or her age and experience, but it’s important to always tell the truth using age-appropriate language. And don’t be afraid to let children see and feel your own grief at appropriate times. Being open and honest may encourage children to share their deepest feelings and fears.
A child who’s never attended a funeral won’t know what to expect. You can help to prepare them by letting them know what will happen that day, including before, during, and after the funeral. It may also help to explain that a funeral is a time to:
• Express sadness because someone has died
• Honour the person who died and celebrate his or her life
• Help comfort and support each other
• Remember that life goes on
Children should have the option of attending the visitation and the funeral service. They need to participate with their family in sharing the sorrow and expressing love and devotion in their own way, and it is helpful to discuss the emotions that will be expressed by people and observed by the child during this time.
The expression of grief, through tears or any other emotion should never be equated with weakness. A child must understand that a funeral is for grieving, and people do that in their own way – through tears and laughter, among other emotions.