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Talking to Children about Death

National Children’s Grief Awareness Week in the UK took place from the 18th-25th November.

Founded by childhood bereavement charity, Grief Encounter, the campaign week aims to raise awareness of bereaved children and young people, and the support available to them throughout the country.

It can be very difficult to talk to a child about death, especially if it’s someone close to them who has died, or a family pet. It can be hard to know what to say. Louise from our Bereavement team has kindly provided some tips to help conversations surrounding the topic and to avoid confusion.

Talking to a child about ‘death’
Tip 1
Language is so important when talking about death with children. We need to be clear. For example, if we say, “Grandma has gone to sleep”, little ones may become afraid to go to sleep, just in case they don’t wake up. It’s ok to say the words died and dead with children. You may feel that you’re protecting them by not using those words, but they may just feel confused or frightened.
Tip 2 
When someone important in a child’s life dies, it’s important that we tell them as soon as we can. Try to be clear about what has happened and tell them somewhere private where they can be comforted. Child Bereavement UK suggests saying, “I have something very sad to tell you. Grandad has been very ill for some time, and now he has died”.
Tip 3
Children grieve too! Many grown-ups find it difficult to see their child grieving, but it is an essential natural process they must go through after someone they love dies, as it is for adults. It’s ok to show your emotions and to explain you are sad because the person has died. Let them know that we might feel all sorts of emotions after someone dies, and that’s all ok.

 

Books

Storybooks designed to open up conversations around death and dying are now widely available. They can help to explain feelings and emotions and make it that little bit easier to have such discussions with a younger child. Here are our top five picks…

‘The Pond’ by Nicola Davies

The Pond is a beautifully illustrated book about a young boy and his family coming to terms with the loss of his father.  It’s centred on a pond in their garden and also teaches about the natural world (the author is a zoology graduate and previously worked for the BBC Natural History Unit).

‘The Fix-it Man’ by Dimity Powell 

Dad – the Fix-It Man – is the king of fixing things like toys and teapots, but the young girl who narrates the story discovers that broken hearts are not as easily repaired when her mum dies. The book demonstrates that the loss of a loved one is a pain that cannot be ‘fixed’, but with love and support, children can move forward after a major loss.

‘Ben’s Flying Flowers’ by Inger Maier 

Ben’s Flying Flowers focuses on the death of Emily’s brother following a long illness. The book is written by a Clinical Psychologist whose speciality is counselling children, and gently shows that as time passes, Emily is able to remember Ben in ways that soothe her sad feelings.

‘Big Tree is Sick’ by Nathalie Slosse 

This book is designed to help young children know how to deal with their emotions when a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness. It touches on emotions such as anger and upset, and also features activities for children to complete with their parents in times of illness or loss.

‘Badger’s Parting Gifts’ by Susan Varley 

First published in the mid 80s, Badger’s Parting Gifts is a multi-award winning book about the loss of a loved one. Badger knows he is old and will die soon, so prepares his friends who later come to terms with their grief by remembering the special things he taught them. Child Bereavement UK endorse the book and it won the Mother Goose Award in 1985.

 

For more information about Children’s Grief Awareness Week, please click here.

Clinical Enquiries: 01902 774570, General Enquiries: 0300 323 0250.