How can I help my child when someone dies?

Coping with the death of a loved one is a huge thing for any child. It can feel even harder during the pandemic, when so many things feel strange. Our parenting coach, Jo Thurston, shares some reassuring advice.

A couple sitting, with the woman's head on the man's shoulder

Be open about your emotions

First, let children know that whatever they are feeling is normal. It’s fine to be angry, to be upset, to cry. These are all emotions that we as adults feel during the grieving process and your child is going to feel them too.

There are some lovely books you can share with your child. Try ‘Badger’s Parting Gifts’ by Susan Varley and ‘When Dinosaurs Die’ by Laurie Kransy Brown. For older children we recommend ‘When someone very special dies’ by Marge Heegaard.

Answer questions honestly

Children will have questions about what’s happening as it’s a lot for them to process. Be honest with them about how you’re feeling. You will be going through your own grief and they are going to see that. It’s important they feel they can talk to you.

Go back to basics

Make sure you and your child are eating healthily, and getting enough sleep and exercise. Looking after your physical health will help you all cope with your emotions, too.

Call upon friends and family to offer support via phone calls, video chats and even letters. It will be good for children to feel close to their extended family and support network.

Try to keep some routine

We understand this is more difficult at the moment, but try to get outside if you can. Fresh air and physical activity will help.

If you have to stay indoors, try some mindful colouring or activities to ease anxiety. It might also be an opportunity to create some new happy memories together.

There are also lots of activity ideas for toddlers, children and teens which may help.

Focus on talking positively

Remember lovely times with the person who has passed away and take time to celebrate their life. You might share stories, your favourite things about them, or even the things you will miss most now they’re gone.

Create a memory box

A memory box is a wonderful way to remember someone. You can use an old shoe box and decorate it to make it special. Let the children choose objects that spark a memory of that person to put it in. Photos and drawings are great, but it can be anything they like. Some ideas are:

  • An item of the person’s clothing
  • Some of their perfume or aftershave
  • Cards that they sent you
  • Tickets from events that you went to together.

It’s a lovely thing to focus on happy memories as you find things for the box. It’s also something that they can go back to at times when they need comforting.

Nelson’s Journey’s Smartphone app will also allow children to make a memory jar on their phone or tablet.

Let yourself grieve

It’s really important to look after your own emotional wellbeing as well as your child’s. People will want to help and be there for you, so find someone that you feel able to talk to.

There are a range of emotions that come with grief – and they can come in any order. The stages of grief include shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

It may take a while to reach acceptance, but the process of grieving is really important. Make some time for yourself, and if you have a partner, ask them to give you some space when you need it.

Don’t expect too much of yourself

Think about things you can do that help with anxiety, anger and sadness. This may be something creative, like cooking, gardening, reading or meditation. Or perhaps something with your family. Try and build these things into your day.

If you’re struggling, there are people who can help. Your GP would be a good call. There are also organisations like Cruse that offer amazing support via their helpline.

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