Whether a friend, family member, or even beloved pet is coming to the end of their life, it can be extremely difficult for a child to both process and cope with. It can be extremely difficult to adults too! I didn’t cope too well when I lost my grandad. There are ways that you can help them to prepare for saying goodbye, if it is likely to occur in the near future, as well as to help them manage should a sudden death take something they love from them. Remember that, to a child, breaking or losing a favourite toy might also bring about feelings of grief in them, especially if they had a deep sentimental attachment to the item.
Giving your child a small token of their loved one can help them to feel less alone when grieving, as well as allow them to remember who they have lost and keep them close to heart. Using sympathy gifts such as a feather braceletcan also be a great way to honour the person who is no longer with them. While little gifts may not take the pain and sadness away, they can help your child to understand that the memory of whomever they lost is incredibly important, both in the present and future.
When dealing with grief and loss, it is incredibly important to keep communication open. This can also include the emotions that you, as a parent, might be feeling after the death of a loved one. While some parents may try to hide their own emotions, in an attempt to protect their child, this isn’t always a good idea. Not only can it have physical effects on you, such as raised blood pressure, but it may also teach your child to hide their own emotions. Bottling up your feelings can lead to struggles with emotional regulation. In addition to this, if a child sees that you are also sad, it can help to normalize the negative emotions they are feeling, helping them to understand that grief as a whole is a normal part of life.
Depending on the age of your child, you might want to consider including them in the funeral service for a lost person, or even the burial of a pet. This might be more suitable for older children who show an interest in attending. Younger children may not understand what is going on, or even be frightened, so you would need to consider your individual child before deciding to include them. Even if attendance is not possible, you can always hold a memorial for a pet, person, or toy, at home, sharing your favourite memories of their loved one as a family.
Grief is difficult for many adults to deal with, but can also be incredibly disruptive for children. Bear in mind that they may not fully understand what is going on, so you might need to be patient. If your child severely struggles with saying goodbye to someone who has died, you may also want to consider helping them to speak with a grief counsellor who may be better able to help them process their emotions. It is a great idea to have a plan for if you have to say goodbye to someone, helping the kiddies understand that people and animals are not here forever etc. As heartbreaking as that is!