Having conversations about loss, especially with your little one, can be difficult. You’re probably worried about how much they can understand or how they’ll react.
But chatting honestly with your child is important and can help them feel supported during a difficult time.
In this guide, we will look at how to talk to children about grief and loss, why you should in the first place and additional resources.
Here are some tips when talking about loss:
Don’t try to hide your pain – it’s okay to cry in front of your little one. It will show them that it’s okay to feel and share emotions. Let them know that it’s okay to cry or not to cry if that’s how they feel.
Avoid telling your child to not worry or be sad. It’s normal for them to feel these emotions. You may also find that they don’t seem to be sad at first, but that’s also natural as they may need time to absorb the news.
When your little one asks a question start by asking ‘what do you think?’. Then build your answer based on their prior understanding.
Give your child plenty of reassurance. Let them know that they’re loved and that there are people who are there for them. A cuddle can also make a big difference.
Here are some other things that may help:
Your child will need information to process what’s happened. Try to explain in clear and simple language that’s right for their age and level of understanding. You can also try giving them information in small snippets at a time to help them understand.
Use plain language
It’s clearer to say someone has died than use euphemisms. Avoid descriptions like the person has ‘gone away’ or ‘gone to sleep’. This may make your little one scared to sleep or worry that when you leave the house you might not come back.
Prepare for your little one to be curious and ask the same questions over and over again. This can be upsetting but remember it’s a part of their need for reassurance and helps them process the information.
You may find that your child feels that a person has died as a result of something they may have done or said.
Explain that they’re not to blame, an example may help with this. For instance, ‘a person has died because their heart stopped working’. Reassure them that they did not cause this to happen.
Can talking to your child help?
Adults often try to protect young children by not telling them what going on. But children often pick up on their parent's emotions and this can cause them to feel anxious or confused if they aren’t told that a person has died.
Talking to your child about death can help them feel better supported and secure.
They will most likely have lots of questions that they’re worried to ask so talking about death can make them comfortable to ask these as well as open up about their feelings.
Worries you may have
You’re probably apprehensive about talking to your little one about this. You may be worried that you’ll scare them or say the wrong thing.
It may be that you’re struggling with your own feelings and find it difficult to support your child. Or maybe you feel like you want to protect them by not telling them someone has died.
But you need to remember to be kind to yourself, it’s normal to find these conversations difficult.
Choosing to have the difficult conversations openly will make your little one more resilient as they grow and reassure them that they can always open up to you about their emotions.
If you have any further worries or concerns speak to your nursery manager or key person for advice.
You can also check out some of these additional resources below: