The death of a loved one is not simple for anyone to assimilate. It must be understood that the processes of assimilation and acceptance are different for each person. Age, personality, circumstances, among other factors, determine these differences.
But in the particular case of children, adult guidance is always recommended. Mourning is different for them and it is the people around you who will help you make this process as healthy and comfortable as possible..
What to do and know to help a child cope with the death of a loved one
Although these issues are never easy to deal with, the emotional well-being of children should be a priority. The process that follows the death of someone close to them must be handled correctly to avoid the death of a loved one, must be handled correctly to avoid the emotional aftermath, especially in children.especially in children.
To achieve this, there are a series of guidelines that should be applied immediately. That is to say that if someone close to you is ill and in danger of death, you should begin to explain to the child. Of course, whenever it is considered necessary, it is necessary to seek the support of emotional health professionals.
- You may be interested in: “The 5 phases of grief (that we go through when we lose someone)”.
1. Talk openly
To help a child overcome the death of a loved one, good communication is necessary. This is essential. Death should no longer be a taboo subject, nor should it be hidden or avoided. Doing so, far from favoring the child, plunges him/her into tremendous confusion.
As mentioned above, it is necessary to explain what is happening even in the mere possibility of someone close to the child dying. If he or she is in the hospital, seriously ill, it should be said from the moment it is happening.
How you approach the subject and explain what is happening depends on the age of the child. When they are younger than 6 years old, you should talk to them about someone’s death or illness in a very concrete, simple and truthful way. This means that you should not use expressions such as “he fell asleep”, “he went on a trip”, or similar expressions..
If the children are older than 6 years old, the subject can be treated with greater complexity because at that age they are mentally capable of understanding what is happening. In the case of adolescents, you should always speak with complete and absolute truth.
2. Allow them to participate in rituals
There is always a question as to whether or not children should be present at the rituals surrounding the death. The answer is yes, as long as this is possible and the atmosphere is one of mutual respect and compassion.
In these situations it is advisable to talk to the child beforehand about what is going to happen in the ritual. Without too many explanations in the case of children under 6 years of age, but telling them what will happen in those moments.
Once this is done, ask the children if they want to be there.. If they say yes, it is advisable to rely on someone who can be close to the child to take care of him/her and, if necessary, leave with him/her.
Older children, especially teenagers, should be encouraged to attend the rituals. It may happen that they do not want to attend, however, without trying to force them, it is better to persuade them, since it is part of the mourning process. However, be careful not to subdue them and make them feel disrespected in their decision..
- You could also read: “68 phrases of Frida Kahlo about art, love, life and death”.
3. Talk about beliefs
If they profess any religion, we must talk about death from the perspective of our faith. In order for them to better understand the rituals surrounding the death of someone, we must approach the subject from our beliefs or religion.
Everything related to the subject, from the perspective of our creed, will greatly help their understanding of death. Allow the child or adolescent to raise his or her doubts, questions and above all his or her emotions..
In response to all this, you can again rely on what your religion or beliefs indicate, and in case you do not follow a specific religion, talk about what you or your family believe about it and how you perceive it.
The most important thing is to let him talk and express his doubts. Make him feel in an environment of trust, where he can talk without taboos. Do not pressure or get exasperated if the child expresses not being convinced of the beliefs or explanations from the religion.
4. Do not overprotect
Hiding emotions, withholding information or not making him/her participate in rituals is overprotecting him/her. And this is inappropriate for the child’s emotional process, whatever the age.
It is common for parents to believe that they must appear strong to their children.. They repress crying and pain so as not to appear weak or sensitive in front of their children. This is a mistake because, especially in younger children, it sends the wrong message.
Children must witness their reality and face it, of course always with the support and guidance of their elders. Knowing the range of emotions and the proper management of them, provides them with more tools than hiding pain and suffering from them.
In addition, this provides the guideline for the child to know that they can express their emotions and that there is nothing wrong with it. This generates a sense of trust and complicity, creating an atmosphere of intimacy where you feel comfortable to express what you feel.
5. Validate emotions
Especially in the days following the death, it is normal for the child to show different emotions. And they are all valid and normal, and they can all be learned to be managed, a task in which the adult must intervene and guide.
It must be clear that the management of emotions is a very complex process that is not mastered until after adolescence.. Therefore, it is irrational to expect a child or a young person to know how to manage their emotions correctly and wisely.
Children and adolescents may show attitudes of anger, sadness, frustration… They may isolate themselves, hide or openly and continuously express their emotions. Especially in younger children, sadness can manifest itself in many different ways.
Some begin to act hyperactive, or get angry easily. They have attitudes that sometimes do not seem related to the sadness of losing someone close to them. This is normal and we must be willing to understand and help them understand.
An effective way to work on this is to validate their emotions.. Phrases such as “I know you must feel angry” or “I understand that you are very sad” accompanied by some action that allows you to transcend that emotion, are the necessary tools for this stage.
6. Seek support
Seek extra support to handle the situation should not be perceived as a weakness. Seeking therapy or a support group can provide the necessary tools to get through this grief in a better way. to better cope with this grief and to help the children in their own grief.
You can also look for support in extra material such as literature or movies that deal with this topic. In addition to providing information to the child, it is also an opportunity to talk and express mutual feelings.
We must always be clear that showing our own emotions in front of our children is not a bad thing.. Far from harming them or making them feel insecure by seeing us crying and assimilating our pain, we can provide them with a great teaching by witnessing how we handle and manage our emotions.
For this reason it is important that we ourselves take care of our emotional health, and if necessary, seek support from a professional and not hide it from the little ones. This will teach them that it is normal to feel pain and it is normal to need help.
7. Keep alert
The grieving process can last up to two years.. During this time and even longer, keep an eye on your child’s grieving process. We should not let our guard down and think that everything is over and that if the child no longer cries, it is all over.
Because these events are painful for everyone, sometimes we make the mistake of wanting to turn the page and not want to think or talk about it again. However, this is a mistake. You have to give it the time it takes to really heal.
For this reason the recommendation is to continually ask children and adolescents about how they are feeling.. Continue to foster an atmosphere of trust so that they feel safe to talk to us. But at the same time we must be alert to situations that could be abnormal.
For example, changes in eating or sleeping habits, continuous feelings of guilt, somatization, irritability, decreased school performance, could be warning signs that indicate that the bereavement is not yet over and to take action either by seeking professional support, or by redoubling efforts within the family environment.