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Losing a parent or close relative is an immense tragedy that can profoundly impact a child, regardless of their age. During these challenging times, providing the right support becomes crucial in ensuring a child’s ability to thrive and maintain a positive outlook on their future. If you are a parent or caregiver seeking ways to aid a grieving child, here are some invaluable tips to guide you along this difficult journey.

1. Embrace Honesty: When faced with a life-limiting illness, it is essential to be honest with children about what is happening as early as possible. If necessary, consider seeking support from trained specialists who can provide counselling. Children who engage in counselling before losing a parent or sibling may require minimal, if any, additional support in the long run.

2. Open Dialogue: Well-intentioned adults often shy away from discussing death with grieving children, fearing further distress. However, by showing genuine care and compassion, you demonstrate that you are there to support them. Encourage them to ask questions, actively listen to their responses, and don’t be afraid to express your own emotions and thoughts about death.

3. Simplify Language: While adults often use euphemisms like ‘passed’ or ‘lost’ when talking about death, these terms can confuse children. Children typically have fewer reservations and may find such language perplexing. Avoid elaborate stories and stick to the truth, as it provides clarity and helps grieving children comprehend the situation better.

4. Navigate Emotions: Bereaved children experience a unique emotional journey, often jumping between different feelings. This “puddle hopping” behavior is entirely normal and shouldn’t be seen as an indication of how deeply they have been affected. Approach discussions about the deceased parent or loved one in a similar manner, encouraging children to recall fond memories and suggesting related activities like finding photographs or drawing happy moments together.

5. Create a Treasure Trove of Memories: Preserving memories can be particularly challenging for young children. Encourage them to compile a memory box filled with items that remind them of the person they lost. This can include seashells collected on a family holiday, a loved one’s perfume, or cherished photographs. Not only can children add to this box whenever they please, but it also serves as a valuable tool for initiating conversations with a trusted companion.

6. Prepare and Involve: Help children navigate the grieving process by preparing them for what they may encounter when a loved one is ill or during a funeral. For example, if a relative is undergoing treatment that may cause hair loss, explain this beforehand and perhaps suggest making something to lift their spirits. Whenever possible, involve children in the funeral service, allowing them to contribute by selecting a song or item to place in their parent’s coffin. Familiarize them with the surroundings by taking them to the churchyard or crematorium before the event.

7. Tears Are Welcome: Many wonder if it’s acceptable to cry in front of a grieving child. The answer is a resounding, yes. By showing your emotions, you empower children to express their own grief openly.

8. Maintain Routine and Familiarity: During times of bereavement, maintaining a calm and positive parenting style becomes crucial. Keeping your child’s routine as consistent as possible helps them feel secure and confident. Stick to established rituals, whether it’s bath time, storytelling, or bedtime. This stability fosters a sense of safety within familiar surroundings.

9. Seek Additional Support: Fortunately, numerous resources are available to assist families and bereaved children through the grieving process. Explore storybooks designed specifically to help young children navigate their feelings when a loved one passes away. These books often include illustrations and interactive elements, facilitating conversations within the family. One such valuable resource is my book, “One Branch at a Time,” which gently sparks dialogues with children, offering them a glimmer of hope for the future.

Lending a Helping Hand Through the Journey of Loss

By implementing these strategies, you can play an instrumental role in helping a grieving child cope with their profound loss. Remember, your support, honesty, and active listening can create a safe space for them to express their emotions and embark on their healing journey. Together, let us guide our children towards strength, resilience, and a brighter tomorrow.

With love,
Eliza x