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Death And Bereavement: Supporting Children 

By Naomi Sharp 

Every day, we believe in the power to succeed and shine.

To succeed and shine, we need awareness of our own gifts and strengths, as we become unstoppable, unbreakable & unconquerable.

Tricky Conversations

If you know anything about me by now, you will know that I don’t dodge them! This is a topic I feel very passionate about. But, it is a topic that is skirted around and avoided, especially with children, and I don’t feel it should be, or needs to be.

This is definitely a conversation to have with children. The sooner we have these conversations, the better. The difference that this could make to a child’s life, further down the line, is phenomenal.

HOW DO YOU TALK TO A TWEEN ABOUT SOMETHING OR SOMEONE DYING?

I recently went through a form of bereavement, and had to inform a lot of children about this particular death, so it’s a good time for me to delve into this subject.

Understandably, a lot of adults have trouble and difficulty with this topic. I can explain the way I see it, but this is definitely something that you need to sit down with on your own – explore it within your own mind, get your head around it and find a way to look at it so that it doesn’t appear as something overwhelmingly scary. It’s not easy, but any conversation you have with a child will be hugely improved by you having a handle on your own viewpoints and fears.  

As you’re going through this conversation, have oodles and oodles of compassion and empathy for yourself, and be kind to you – it is a big topic!

HOW DO MOST CHILDREN EXPERIENCE DEATH FOR THE FIRST TIME?

It can be one of two ways:

  • A child could have experienced and had exposure to the death of a family pet. They may have witnessed it directly or their parents may have taken the animal to the vet and not fully explained where their pet has gone.
  • A child may have been to a funeral. They may have been with their parents, witnessed people crying and displaying big emotions. They may not have an understanding of what’s happened. They may not understand what the coffin is and may ask where the person has gone and what has happened to them.

So, it’s about setting a process for them to grieve and giving them an understanding that:

  • Grieving is OK.
  • It takes time to grieve.
  • There will be moments when they burst into tears even though they weren’t doing anything connected to the death they have experienced.
  • They will feel that there is something big missing in their life.

The fear of loss can be HUGE to children. They don’t want to lose something or someone that is providing them with stability and safety. The thought of losing parents, grandparents or their favourite pet is really, really, really BIG!

There is one way that I explore and approach death, and I have actually found that it opens the topic up and sets the foundation more firmly.

The way nature teaches death is: “nothing is ever lost”.

To help children with the concept of death, I try to follow nature’s laws - there is no loss, there is only transformation. Yes, there will be change and yes, things will be different, and no, you can’t go back to the way they were. But, I like to try and help children believe that they won’t lose everything because there will be a space created for something new to come in.

DIRECT OR INDIRECT WORDS?

When an animal or person passes over, I believe we should use words like ‘death’ and ‘die’. This is to help prepare them for other times they may hear these words. It’s about helping them see that it is part and parcel of life. Plants die, trees die, but new trees grow. If they are used to the sound and meaning of direct words relating to death, the words won’t be as feared – they simply become part of the conversation, and the words become linked to the transformation and not the loss.  

When something dies we can then talk about how that something is no longer in the form that we are used to because it has transformed.

SITTING ON A STAR

This is my chosen way of explaining where a person or animal goes when they die. The reason I have picked a star is because children can visually see it. When something/someone dies, of course they will miss meeting with and touching them. But if you can help that child visualise that the person/animal is now sitting on a star, you can encourage them to look up at that star and still talk to them, and still share their dreams and concerns. And you can reassure the child that even though they may not be able to answer, they will still be able to listen.

This will give them something visual and tangible to help them move through all the feelings that will arise after experiencing a death. You can explain to the child that the person/animal will be there for the next 1000 years, always there to support and listen.

You can also go one step further, if the child is ready, and explain to them that even in their darkest times, that star will be shining bright, watching over them, to give them hope and courage.

When a child is scared to go into a dark room, they turn on the light. You can help them see that their star is there to take away their worries.

DISSOLVING FEARS

When you start exploring death, from this transformative angle, some of the fear can dissolve away. It’s truly remarkable how quickly children can step change. They won’t forget, and nor should they, but the acceptance of death can be so much greater, so much more stable and balanced.

They will still cry, they will still grieve, but when they are struggling, they may just go out and find that star.

YOUR DEATH

This must be every parent’s toughest thought! What if I was no longer here? It’s really, really difficult and I can fully appreciate that.

But, you may like to consider exploring this with your child to help answer questions like: “where will I go if something happens to you?”

Try to reassure your child that you will transform into a star, and that there are plans in place so that they will always have people to support them and love them, and to help them along their journey. For a child, nobody may ever have explained what’s going to happen and they may think that they are going to be left alone in a house, to figure everything out on their own.

They will take comfort from knowing that you already have a plan.

Go on to reassure them that those plans don’t need putting in place today, because you’re still here, and then go out and have lots of fun!  

So, be brave. That’s the biggest thing I would like to say to parents.

Past Blogs

There is such a wealth of information available on-line today: useful hints, inspiring quotes, interesting tips and educational tools. But, sometimes, that life-changing sentence you read can be lost as you click on the next link. So, we wanted to create this easy-to-use space for you, so that you can quickly find that lost sentence in our past blogs.

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