Experiencing a loved one’s passing is never easy irrespective of age. There is a group of people that don’t get too much public attention when a passing occurs: the children. Adults have a tendency to make sure the grieving spouse, parents and family as a collective have what they need to get through the tough times ahead, but lumping the children into the ‘family’ may prove harmful to the child. Talking to them individually, even if they have shutdown, is a necessary step to understanding their well being. Here are helpful tips to encourage a healthy conversation.
Preface: This conversation is very sensitive. It is important that you’re in a calm and level space mentally before embarking on this discussion. Please approach it with patience, calm and love.
- Listen to them:
Children do talk. They can talk a lot! Sometimes simple open-ended questions can lead children into a fruitful where you can learn more about how they interpret their new world. Example questions: “how are you feeling?” or “what questions do you have about what has happened?”
2. Avoid forcing conversation if they are not comfortable:
It is not easy for children to start communicating honestly and smoothly just after the circumstance. Often, they won’t know that it is ok to talk about something they’ve never experienced before and more than likely have never discussed before. It is ok to give them time and space and let them talk when they are ready. During this time position yourself as someone they can trust with their feelings. Have conversations about school, friends, food..anything they like to keep the line of communication open and accessible
3. Affirm that they have done nothing wrong:
There is a possibility that the child can feel guilty for the loss of someone they knew and loved. They might believe that they have had a choice to avoid it or was because of something they have done. E.g., if the child was disciplined before the passing, or there was a dispute. If this is the case, assure them that they are not at fault.
4. Ask them to talk to someone they like and trust:
Don’t take it personally if this conversation is better had with someone else. The child’s well being and stability is the focus and however that is achieved should be accepted by the adults in their life. Great non-relative suggestions are: their coaches, teachers, youth leaders, or any responsible teen or adult that they admire.
5. Do activities together:
What does the child like to do? Paint, play video games, watch YouTube videos or movies on Netflix? Try engaging with them and take a sincere interest in what they’re doing. This may not segue into the conversation about your loved one, but it will help keep the open lines of communication for the right time.
6. Talk to their friend’s parents and teachers:
The more the responsible adults in the child’s life understand the situation, the more opportunities for conversation there will be. Talk to the people in your lives and share your observations of the child’s behavior and response. It may help to make a note that everyone doesn’t have to bring up the passing at each interaction with the child. Make sure they can alert you with their observations by giving them your cell, email, social information.
7. Share memories of your loved ones with your child:
Sometimes the best way to start a conversation is with you sharing first. Tell the child about all the good things in your relationship with the person. Focus on all the joyous memories and keep a happy and positive tone while telling. It’s ok to cry and allow the child to see you vulnerable. You are modeling healthy acceptance which may help the child’s understanding of how to handle and show their emotions. Asking the child if they have good memories to share is an excellent conversation because it will help in garnering their positive sentiments, may invoke laughter, smiles and warmth.
8. Talk to them about the future:
When a close loss happens to a child, their entire future may change. Allow them to discuss their future and what they still hope to accomplish. Inevitably, the topic of how things will change will surface. Try navigating the conversation from the “this will never happen now” to “how can we still achieve this?”. The child should know that the will of their loved one would be for them to still live fully and happily.
Loss of a loved one is difficult to cope with; especially, for kids. It is not easy for them to take in this level of change in their minds, but there can be peace and healing. If you’re a praying family, pray for peace and His peace will surround your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. You will make it through well, just keep communicating.
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