Children and Grieving
Discussing death with young children is a daunting task. Learn what to do to help them deal with a loved one passing away.
Small Children and Funerals
p>Ott says Fernside encourages parents to allow their children to attend funerals, but that parents should never force a wary child to attend. “I’ve worked with four-year-olds who really wanted to go [to the funeral] and were not allowed to go,” says Ott. “We must remember, rituals, funerals, can serve the same purpose for children as they do for us. Children need to get closure, to make it real.” Giving children the option to attend a funeral gives them feelings of control during a very difficult and out-of-control situation. If the death is a close family member, particularly a parent, Ott suggests having another family member or close friend “assigned” to the child; that person can take the child outside or to another room if need be. This allows a break for the child and alleviates pressure for the already overwhelmed surviving parent.
If children do want to attend a funeral or memorial, they should be told beforehand what will take place—who will be there, what will happen, where it will be, how people will be sad, etc. This is another opportunity for parents to answer questions.
While a parent doesn’t want to fall apart hysterically in front of a child, “it is important to express feelings and be a healthy role model,” says Ott. Children are greatly aware of a parent’s response to grief, and when they see an adult express sadness, it demonstrates that it’s OK to cry and be sad. If an adult puts on a “brave face” and avoids crying or talking about the dead person, it sends the message that the adult isn’t that upset by the death and perhaps the child’s own feelings are wrong.
It is important for children to demonstrate their own love for adults; allow children to care for you, as you are also grieving. Encourage your children to share their feelings, and you can share with them.
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