How should we talk to kids about loss? As a nation we have now sadly seen the deaths from covid pass the 100,000 mark with thousands more to come as people fight for their lives in overwhelmed hospitals. The tragedy and trauma of the scale of mass death will take a while to be fully felt. Even, if you are lucky enough not have lost a loved one to coronavirus, the emotional impact of it will still pervade your and your family’s life in some way. And of course, if you have lost close family or friends or they are ill with covid or hospitalised it will effect you profoundly.
I lost my wonderful husband nearly 7 years ago due to lung failure from Cystic Fibrosis. He was on the transplant list hoping for new lungs, but sadly didn’t make it. Over the years as his condition deteriorated we spent a lot of time in hospitals. He died in a very similar way to those with covid, struggling for breath on a CPAP machine after catching a virus. So, seeing scenes in hospitals has been quite traumatic for me. My son had just turned four at the time.
So, having had first hand experience of personal loss I thought it might be useful to share with you some of my thoughts on talking about grief, especially with kids.
It is natural for your first instinct to be wanting to protect your child, however talking honestly and calmly (if/when you feel strong enough) about coronavirus or loss will help them to understand things. Try not to ignore or shield them too much from what is happening as this can be more scary for them. They will pick up on things from TV, at school and from how you are anyway and their imagination will fill in the blanks unless you are open about things. Talk to kids about loss in simple and clear language that is age specific. Be prepared to not have all the answers and just be honest about that.
It is really important to acknowledge children’s anxiety, worries and grief and listen to them. Give them space and time to talk to you and offer words that show you are listening. They may think that that it’s better not to upset you, so let them know that whatever they feel is okay. If it feels too difficult to talk about you, may find that reading particular books with your child might help to open up a conversation. There are many great books that helped us that you can see on our Pinterest board. Talking and listening to each other will help you both to deal with your loss or fears. Older children may find it more helpful to talk to their peers or sometimes even another family member. Some of the things my son has said about his loss have been incredibly insightful and profound. Young children have a great capacity for processing and understanding such tragic events.
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Loss can be incredibly bewildering for children, especially if it is the loss of a parent. Children, just like adults, experience and express their grief in different ways at different times. They may become withdrawn or regress, become angry or aggressive or tearful and clingy. Children may experience bed wetting, nightmares and separation anxiety among other things. They may even act completely normal, as as it takes a while to sink in. These are all natural and normal reactions and should be dealt with compassion and understanding as much as you can.
Making sure your child feels safe will help with their anxiety. Reassuring words, love and affection and special time together will help to soothe them. Let them know that they can talk to you whenever they need to. They may just need extra time to play with you at first before they can open up to you. But if they know they can, they will in their own time.
There are many methods that can help children to express their worries or their grief. We have done lots of art therapy type exercises over the years which are great fun and can really help. The muddles, puddles and sunshine book has various ideas for bereaved children and becomes a kind of record of the loved one too. We found creating a memory box about daddy was special thing which can also be dipped into at any time to remember him and is added to each year with birthday and fathers day cards.
If you or any of your family is bereaved there are many options like counselling, support groups and charitable associations that can help, some accessed through your GP and others in the wider community. These really helped me and gave me a support network that understood what we were going through. The family focused groups were especially helpful and were really reassuring to my son to find other children that were going through a similar experience as him. Don’t be too proud to reach out to family and friends for support either even if it is just for practical things, as these can often be the most helpful when you are trying to simply get through each day. Be kind to yourself as much as possible as you will face very black days which will seem impossible but you will get through it, I promise.
Grief and loss (youngminds.org.uk)
Children’s grief | Cruse Bereavement Care
How to help a young person through grief (mariecurie.org.uk)
Coronavirus – Supporting children through difficult times | Child Bereavement UK
Coronavirus: Support for bereaved children | Winston’s Wish
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