When a child is bereaved of someone they love, it is normal for the adults around them to do everything in their power to protect them from the pain of grief.
No-one wants to see a child crying in sadness and pain – and our instincts are to fold them in a big hug, squeeze them tight and tell them that everything will be OK. But if we don’t allow children to grieve, we stop them from processing their difficult feelings around the death of their loved one – and that can have a huge impact for their future development.
Our experience working with hundreds of grieving children over the years at Tynedale Hospice at Home has taught us that children want to feel included – and they want to be told the truth, in bite sized chunks and in an age appropriate language.
Parents often feel the need to protect their children by shielding them from the reality of what is happening – but children often understand more than we think they do. They listen to phone calls, they hear conversations at home, they talk to friends, they go online and google their questions. And if we don’t take the time to talk to them, gently and calmly about what is happening, they can get confused, frustrated and angry.
Giving children an informed choice is crucial so that they feel included. Do they want to visit Mummy or Daddy in hospital? And if they do, what can they expect to see when they get there? Do they want to go to their loved one’s funeral? And what will happen when they get there? Do they want to make a card to go into the coffin? Do they understand that when someone dies, nothing can hurt them anymore. They can’t feel anything.
We organise pre funeral visits with children and their families to gently guide them through a funeral, step by step, so they are not frightened or confused on the day. We can then organise regular support sessions with children and their families to help them understand and explore not only what happened but their feelings around the death of a loved one.
Not all children need our support – but, for those who do, we believe that giving children the right support at the right time can help them build resilience and face the future with hope.