The loss of a loved one is already a tragic experience for an adult. What more for a young child who already has already developed a deep relation with the dearly departed? But unlike adults, the grief being experienced by children are quite different. So, if you are suddenly faced with this situation, how can you help? Here are some ways by which you can help children cope with the loss of a loved one.
1) Understand that children react differently than adults
Children have a different way of coping with the situations that they are faced with simply because they are still young and inexperienced. If the child seems to be unaffected by the loss, it doesn’t mean that he is not grieving. He does not simply know how to express his grief the same way that adults express theirs. So, don’t assume that there is no problem and you can just let the child be with himself. That is a grave mistake that you will make.
You need to be with the child as much as you can. Assure him that you are there to help even if his loved one is not there anymore. He may appear to be sad at times and then play shortly thereafter. The child is coping in the way that he knows how to. Your presence will mean a lot to him so give him more of your time during the first few weeks or months of his loss.
2) Respond according to the age of the child
Whatever response is required of you, be sure that it is appropriate for the child’s age. You need to think like a child of his age. Don’t answer a young toddler’s question which can only be understood by a 10-year old. Conversely, don’t answer the question of a 10-year old as if he is only a toddler. Answers that are direct but not too explicit are the responses that produce the most helpful results. If the child’s face brightens up when you gave your response, you can be sure that he already understood what you are saying. The key is to think like the child at his age.
3) Avoid using clichés that are overused and meaningless
Overused clichés such as “he moved to heaven,” or “he went on a trip,” or “he passed away” are things of the past. Never use them when the child asks what happened to his loved one. There is no harm in telling him that his loved one died. If you tell him that his loved one made a trip to heaven, he may want to follow. So, you will have another difficult answer to make. There is no other way you can make death softer in the eyes of a child.
4) Don’t oversimplify the cause of death
If the child asks why his loved one died, answer him directly in terms that he will clearly understand. Tell him the reason why his loved one died and don’t use any euphemisms. If the death is caused by cancer, tell that to the child. If he asks what cancer is, just tell him that it is a kind of sickness that causes the body to stop working. Again, calibrate your response according to the age of the child.
But don’t tell him that his loved one went to the hospital and then he died. This may cause the child to be fearful of hospitals because it is where his loved one died. So, be direct in your answers in ways that he would clearly understand.
5) Ask the help of others
If you are also grieving for the loss, it is not wrong for you to ask for other people’s help. They are more than willing to help when they see that you are experiencing difficulty in coping and helping the child. It will also be beneficial to the child because he will see that he has a working support system that he can count on and not just you.
6) Give him your love
The best help that you can give a grieving child is your love. This is the time that your expressions and demonstrations of love will make a difference in his ability to cope with his loss. Just being at his side, even if you’re not saying anything, will mean a lot to him.