Tuesday 30 October 2018

Helping our kids cope with their feelings after someone dies

Parent hugging child on a beach at sunset

It’s been a few months now since my Papa died. I thought I saw him the other day. It wasn't him obviously, it was another elderly gentlemen, sat in the driver’s seat of a car similar to his and pulled into a disabled parking bay, as I guess he would have been.

Strangest thing really, because I haven’t really see him very much over the last few years and he didn’t live round here. In fact it would have been completely bizarre to see him here when he was with alive, but I thought I did… just for second.

When he died I was very careful about how I told my kids about it. Both Anthony and David are autistic and Jane is still only five years old. Death is something that happens and it’s important that they understand things about it. The truth is that someone dying can be quite scary for young children even when it’s not someone they see every day.

There are many things to do when someone dies and some of these things can take time. But it can also take time for our kids to really understand and come to terms with someone they know dying, and just like my strange spotting of my Papa, it can creep up them. Recognising their concerns as being connected to the recent events can be important, because they may not realise it themselves, and because it can help you help them.

Worrying they are going to die

It’s very natural to think about your own mortality when someone you know dies. It can be scary. Our eldest son got very worried that he might die young and started to think about all the things that could cause him to die. What if someone hurt him? What if he had an accident? What if he got sick?

This is very challenging because the truth is any of these things could happen. However, we can mitigate against them. We do things to help him stay safe, make accidents less likely to happen and to help prevent illness. Going through these can help.

We also talk about how we hope we might die – seems strange but it gives him a future to think about. He thought he’d like to be over 90 maybe when he dies – and I said that was good target.

Fear of being left

Or perhaps more accurately, a fear that whoever is leaving, might not come back. We were very clear with the children that when someone died it meant that they would not come back. Their body would disappear (whether that was straight away or eventually), their soul would go. Even if there are religious beliefs, there is still the understanding that the person has ‘gone’ from where they were.

This can make some children worry, that when a parent or other loved one leaves them, they might not come back either. We’ve always been very clear when we leave the children, where we are going, what we are doing, and when we are going to be back.

The information provides fact that they can understand. There is also a time when we should return by and this provide an answer.. we aren’t just going away.. we are coming back. If we are going to be late, we let the children know so they don’t need to worry.

Some children may not want to go to sleep by themselves and this can be for similar reasons. I've been telling my daughter that I'm just downstairs and I'll be back in five minutes to check on her. Again it's really important that I do come back, I try to set an alarm so I remember.

Things being different

Finally, things are different and this can be scary, particularly for children on the autistic spectrum who are reliant on routine.

If the person who has died plays any part in any routine then this will need to be considered. If you are visiting a place and would usually ‘pop by’ to see someone and this isn’t going to happen then it’s important to remind the child. Making new routines to help with the transition can give everyone time to deal with the adjustment.

If you have any helpful advice or information, please feel free to share it in the comments.

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  1. All so true. It's a difficult topic to discuss but it is definitely best discussed, and revisited at times, although anxiety and fears can make that even more difficult. Try to take it at the child's own pace would be a tip I would add. Hugs to you xx

  2. It's so important to think about the worries and fears that children may have when you need to discuss death with them. Its really hard to think clearly especially when you are grieving yourself. Thank you for this post xx


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