Supporting your children through bereavement
With the news of the Queen's death yesterday, there is likely to be increased questions about death and dying. It may also, for some children bring up feelings about their previous experiences about bereavement.
In this post, I have included some suggestions below of how to address the subject of death with your children. This post will also be useful for challenging life circumstances.
🖤 Use age appropriate language that is clear
Even though words like 'death' and 'dying' seem very direct, terminology like 'passed away' or 'lost' can be confusing for children. Children are literal and benefit from clear definitions which words like ‘died’ provide.
🖤 Explain using concepts they understand
Yesterday, as we were walking home from nursery, we passed a spot where we had found a dying baby crow in the Spring. My daughter asked me about it once again and why its body had stopped working.
I explained as best I could about how the heart beats, which in turns sends blood around the body and keeps all our important parts working. I used this similar explanation later in the day when we found out that Her Majesty had died. Using this same terminology that helped her to understand, I explained that her heart had stopped beating. This meant that all the important parts couldn’t work anymore. This seemed to be a suitable explanation for her and our conversation moved on to how our body behaves when we are alive.
🖤 Offer reassurance
There is often the worry that children may feel that other loved ones are going to die. In my house, we offer reassurance without offering impossible promises. I was at an amazing lecture by psychologist Vanessa Lapointe last year. She offered the terminology ‘Hulking it Up’ which I had never come across previously.
Hulking it up is creating a strong emotional presence for your child where they feel safe and supported whilst not making any unrealistic promises. I adopted this approach last year when my daughter took seriously ill with a meningitis / sepsis co-infection. In one of those early days, she asked me if she was going to be ok? After taking a moment to gather my biggest strength and power, I ‘hulked it up’, I created that secure space and said to her : ‘My darling, you are in the best place for you with the best people around you. They are going to do everything to help your amazing body to heal’. Those simple words gave her the security that she most needed at that time.
🖤 Be honest and encourage questions
I encourage honesty and openness in my house and am open with my children when they ask questions – age appropriately of course. I have learnt both from personal and professional experience, that children are excellent at filling in the gaps; especially if they feel they haven’t got the information they need. I described it to a parent recently as adding 2 + 2 and getting 55.
After my daughter got sick last year, there was (and still is) a multitude of various medical disciplines and frequent unpleasant procedures that were essential to aid her recovery. I did my upmost to explain to her what to expect and what would happen. I also gave her the opportunity to ask any questions she had. I told her if I couldn’t answer them, I would find the best person who could. Whilst it didn’t eliminate the trauma of such a challenging time, what it did do was give her the control and ownership that she knew what was happening, when it was happening and why it was important for her.
My children have not yet experienced a bereavement, however I feel that the same principles apply and I expect that I will approach that situation in a similar way.
🖤 Encouraging feelings
Let children know that their feelings are valid. Some may feel sadness, confusion or even worry. Others may not feel anything in relation to the Queen’s death and that is ok too. If your children are expressing feelings, honour them and support them to explore them.
🖤 Finally, it’s ok to show your own emotions
Children often look to adults to help them navigate grief and even take get an understanding on how to react. It is ok to say that you feel sad about the Queen’s death. She has been such a historical, cultural and societal stalwart for many of us. Or for many, the passing of the Queen may elicit your own feelings and experiences of bereavement. It’s ok to explain that to your children and for them to see that you too have feelings and challenges.
🖤 RIP Your Majesty 🖤