It can be very difficult to know what to say to children and young people, especially if we are grieving ourselves. Often, as adults, our natural response is to want to protect them from the hurt and pain of someone dying. Sometimes we try to shield them from the truth of what has happened. Children and young people sense that something is happening and may feel confused, worried and very isolated with their questions, fears and anxieties. This can make it more difficult for them to grieve. A few simple things can help.
Tell children and young people what is happening or has happened in a way that they can understand – and be prepared to repeat explanations as often as they need. Children need to be given the facts regarding the death or illness in language appropriate to their age and level of comprehension.
Avoid using confusing language such as ‘passed away’, ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘lost’ instead of ‘died’. This can cause them extra worries because of children, especially young ones, take what we say literally. Simple, clear, factual and truthful language is best.
Answer their questions honestly and factually. It is OK to say when we do not have the answers. Children and young people respect honesty.Involve and include them, giving them choices about taking part in any rituals such as funerals or memorials.
Give them time and space to ask any questions and express their feelings.
Inform their school about what is happening or has happened.
Recognise that their grief can feel confusing and frightening for them and they may need more reassurance about many things in the early days and want to stay close to other family members.