When a death occurs, we may feel like we want to protect our children from having to deal with something so painful. We may think it is better not to talk about such "adult" topics like death and allow them to live in their happy bubble of childhood. But when a death occurs to someone that the child knew, the best thing we can do is allow the child to be included in the grief process. Here are a few suggestions to help guide a child through grief in a healthy way.
Give choices - Allow the child to decide how they want to be included in saying good bye to the person that has died. This may mean going to a memorial, writing a goodbye letter, making a picture or collage, looking at photographs, or talking about the person who has died. Given choice, a child will naturally choose what feels right for them.
Be an example - It's ok for your child to see you grieve. Allowing them to see you cry will teach them that it is appropriate and normal to be be sad after someone that we love has died. You can reassure your child that you are okay, but that you are sad and miss the person that has died. If you feel that your grief is complicated or out of control, seek help from a grief group or a grief counsellor.
Answer questions truthfully - When a child asks a question about death it is important to give them a direct and simple answer in a way that is age appropriate. Use clear, simple language. It is ok to use the words 'death' and 'died' as words that are vague like 'lost' or 'gone to sleep' can be confusing and even scary for children. It is natural for children to be curious about death and to need reassurance that they are safe and that most people live long lives.
Fun Times - Encourage your child to continue to do things that are fun. Children grieve in cycles and can naturally engage their attention quite fully in whatever activity they are doing. Remind them that this is good and it is not disrespectful to the person that has died if we still have fun and laugh. Doing these activities together can be helpful for the whole family.
Of course, if you believe that your child may require professional support, you may wish to seek out a therapist with expertise in grief and loss.