Children’s grief: 4 helping facts

Children’s grief: 4 helping facts


By: Aurélie Vasseur - Content manager

Grieving is a long journey filled with various emotions. It is not always easy to manage all these feelings that inhabit us as an adult, but what about our children? How do we deal with their grief when we are overwhelmed ourselves? Here are four pieces of advice that can help you see more clearly. 

1- Should we talk about it?

For a child, knowing the truth is reassuring. Therefore, it is important to talk about death in the simplest way possible.

To avoid:

  • Using words like "deceased" that are too abstract for a child
  • Use the famous "disappeared", "gone on a long trip", "asleep forever". Children would imagine that the person continues to live somewhere, elsewhere on the planet, or visualizes her lying in a bed. They still hope to find her one day. It is even possible that, for example, they develop anxiety when a loved one goes on a trip or a fear of falling asleep.

How to talk about it:

  • It is best to use the word "death", gently explaining that this is what happens when the body no longer functions.
  • Talking about it prevents the child from inventing answers to his own questions. Questions he may not dare to ask you. Often, the answers he has in mind are far worse than the reality. With their big imaginations and their tendency towards self-centeredness, children can magnify the facts and blame themselves for things that have nothing to do with themselves.
  • Talking will also help kids to express themselves. It is validating their emotions, which are completely normal.

2- Should I bring my kids to the funeral?

It is often thought that funerals can traumatize children but, what can be disturbing is rather the fact of forcing or forbidding them to participate. We will therefore choose to explain to them the course of the funeral, by naming what could happen (many people will cry, the body will be a little cold, etc.) and proposing to them to join it or not.

The child who feels the urge to be present, needs this ritual just like any adult. He will be overwhelmed, of course, but letting his emotions out will be beneficial, just as seeing the body will help him become aware of reality. Regardless of the age of the child, offering him the opportunity to participate is to recognize that he too is grieving.

This is why it is essential to choose a funeral home that offers a warm setting and knows how to take the youngest into consideration.

At MEMORIA, we welcome children with tenderness and have set up spaces especially for them with pencils, coloring sheets, toys and books.

3- How to accompany them

The first and most important step is to take care of yourself as an adult. Allowing ourselves to experience our emotions, setting up rituals and getting help if needed will be a good model for the grieving child.

We may feel overwhelmed by our own loss and unable to offer the support the child needs. It's completely legitimate and you shouldn't blame yourself. It is possible to ask for help from someone close to the child (family or friend) for the time necessary. Recognizing our limits is part of taking care of yourself.

When you feel available, it is time to put in place certain support elements:

  • Listen and help the child express his emotions through words, games, drawings or even reading.

MEMORIA offers printable coloring activities and bereavement books for children of all ages.

  • Reassure him by maintaining a routine, cuddling him, answering his questions and reminding him that no one is going to abandon him.
  • Explain to him that he is not guilty, and he has done nothing wrong and that the person will not come back even if he really wants to.

We will have to remain vigilant in the long term. Indeed, the child may be better for several weeks or even months, then suddenly see difficult feelings related to bereavement arise. It is a common and even reassuring phenomenon, which demonstrates the evolution in maturity of your little one.

4- When to seek external help?

The following factors should lead us to consider professional help – The grieving child:

  • Mentions intention to die or suicidal ideation
  • Behaves in a very unusual way
  • Has fears that prevent him to function
  • Sleeps excessively or has insomnia
  • Isolates and no longer feels like sharing with family or friends, no longer wants to go to school

Who can you call?

  • Psychologist
  • Family doctor
  • Social worker

The CSLC in your neighborhood or the Info-Social service (dial 811) can also refer you to the resources available near you.

MEMORIA, in partnership with Deuil jeunesse, offers four free psychological support meetings to prepare or accompany the child in his or her grieving process.

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