How do I talk to a child/teen about death or an impending death?
It is important to be open and honest when discussing a death or impending death of a loved one with a child. Though we want to shield children from the emotional pain we generally feel when someone we love dies; feeling the loss is part of the grieving process.
Should a child or teen be actively involved in, or even attend the funeral? Children or teens should have the choice of whether to attend a funeral or Celebration of Life. It is helpful to explain what will be involved in the service by providing the child with age appropriate information to help them make these decisions, and then to respect their choices. Children may want to be involved if the loved one was a close family member or friend. For example; they could help chose pictures to be shown at the service, read a poem or sing a song.
What might I expect from a grieving child/teen? There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Even though there are many similarities in the way we each grieve…. each person’s journey is unique. There are no stages we move through, nor is the process a linear one. The journey is like a roller coaster ride with ups and downs. Some hours or days are “good” ones, and others are filled with the grief emotions such as sadness, anger, confusion, guilt, anxiety etc.
Brain processing seems to slow down for people when they are bereaved. Difficulty focusing or concentrating is common for children and adults. Sitting still in school or studying may be challenging.
Some children/teens may withdraw from their normal activities and spend more time alone, while others may embrace social activities and spend more time with friends.
Children tend to grieve physically with spurts of excess energy. As well, children may move through their emotions quickly feeling sad one minute, confused or angry another, and happy the next. Physical outlets such as sports, games, hiking, yoga or walking are healthy outlets for them.
Art, music, compassionate family time and talking with a trusted adult or friend are other healthy coping skills.
Should I share my grief with my child or teen?
It is okay and commended for your child/teen to see you grieve. If they don’t see that you are openly grieving, they may not feel comfortable showing their grief emotions. They will learn to express or discuss their feelings and honour their loved ones, by the examples set for them. Foster an environment where they can openly express themselves without feeling judged or censored. It is important to keep in mind that children tend to be more physical and less verbal in their grief. Provide an environment with a physical activity, without forcing a conversation. Be open to any questions that they ask. Generally, when children do verbally express their grief, it is often in short spurts. They will engage you in a brief discussion and then continue to play or even change the subject.