Talking to children about loss
Simple DO’s and DON’Ts:
- DO – Go first. As the adult, you are the leader.
- DO – Tell the truth about how you feel. – Telling the truth about your own grief and about how you feel will establish a tone of trust and make your child feel safe in opening up about his or her own feelings.
- DO – Recognise that grief is emotional, not intellectual and that sad or scared feelings are normal. Avoid the trap of asking your child what is wrong, for he or she will automatically say “Nothing”.
- DO – Listen with you heart, not your head. Allow all emotions to be expressed without judgement, criticism, or analysis.
- DO – Remember that each child is unique and has a unique relationship to the loss.
- DO – Be patient. Don’t force your child to talk. Give your child time. Make sure to plant healthy ideas about talking about feelings.
- DON’T – Say “Don’t feel scared”. Fear is a common and normal response.
- DON’T – Say “Don’t feel sad”. Sadness is a healthy and normal reaction. Sadness and fear, the most common feelings attached to loss of any kind, are essential to being human.
- DON’T – Ask your children how they are feeling. Like adults, fearful of being judged, they will automatically say, “I’m fine”, even though they are not.
- DON’T – Act strong for your children. They will interpret your “non-feeling” as something they are supposed to copy.
- DON’T – Compare their lives or situations to others in the world. Comparison always minimizes feelings.
- DON’T – Make promises that you cannot keep. Instead of saying “Everything’s going to be okay”, say, “We’ll do everything we can to be safe”.
- DON’T – Forget that your children are very smart. Treat them and their feelings with respect and dignity as you would like to be treated by others.