How to Talk to Kids about Losing a Loved One

Bel Messer

May 20, 2016

sad boy

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The topic of grief and losing a loved one with children is a confronting conversation to have. Particularly for an adult who is quite probably experiencing the very same feelings. Often the questions little ones will have may be difficult to answer, but it is really important that we don’t sweep the answers to these big questions under the carpet. As a mum-of-three, and losing my own father very young, I have some tips on how to talk to kids about losing a loved one.

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#1. Focus on What is Life About

Losing loved ones or friends is a very real reality for most of us at some point.  Whether it be grandparents, a parent, siblings, babies, friends or even pets. Mortality. Like all living things, we have a life span. The tricky thing to explain to children is the fact that we don’t know how long our ‘span’ will be.

It is a good idea to focus on what life is about, really bring home the notion that life is about living, it is about creating special moments with the people we love. These moments and memories we can hold on to forever.

#2. Always in our Minds and Hearts

Explain that even though the loved one isn’t here with us anymore, they are always in our mind and in our hearts. They can stay safe and warm inside of us through our memories.

#3. Help Keep Memories Alive

Talk about the person who has passed or is passing, often. Remember the good times and write them down together. Draw pictures. Reflect on these memories together.

#4. Understand Triggers

There are lots of triggers for remembering the people we’ve lost. I remember my Dad who passed when I was a small girl of 7 years when I hear an Eagles song on the radio, or when I smell a certain aftershave. In fact, I remember him often through these triggers. My girlfriend who passed away two years ago, she ‘comes’ to me in the form of a butterfly. It makes me smile.

sad girl

#5. Help Kids Know How To Communicate with Others

I remember dreading telling people about my father dying, the sorry looks on their faces was really a source of unwanted embarrassment for me. Give children the skills of communication, teach them how to react to people’s sympathy. They will use these skills throughout their lives in tricky or confronting situations.

#6. Be Honest

Be honest with them about your own feelings. It is important to cry, to show your child that even adults cry too. Be strong, but not stoic.

#7. Tell Them It’s Ok Still to Have Fun

The most important gift you can give a child grieving is the knowledge that it is OK to smile again, it is OK to have fun in their life without guilt. Their special person wouldn’t want them to be sad forever, they would absolutely want them to live their life to the fullest.

on the wings of a butterflyOn the Wings of a Butterfly, Belinda’s 4th book, is a special story for children aged 4 and up to support conversations on grief and loss. Drawing on her own life experience of losing her father as a seven-year-old and working with child psychologists and counsellors to perfect the message for the book, Belinda has again used her passion for writing about tricky topics in language that resonates with children. The book is available to buy online.

losing a loved one

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