As news slowly and tragically filters through about the names and ages of some of the victims of last night’s Manchester terror attack (the second victim to be named is a girl of just 8), some grown-ups will be struggling to cope with their grief.
So we can just imagine how the brothers, sisters, best friends, classmates of those young victims will be feeling.
But helping children and young people to cope with grief is a topic fraught with misunderstanding.
Many believe it that it is best to try and protect children from grief, that they don’t feel it in the same way as adults, or that they can’t handle the truth, but experts believe the opposite is in fact true and we must help children to deal with their grief head on.
As we struggle to come to terms with what’s happened Yahoo Style UK spoke to some grief experts to get some advice on helping little ones work through their sadness.
Make them feel safe
“The first step in supporting a young person through grief is always about making them feel safe because death can make young people feel insecure,” explains Richard Daniel Curtis, behaviour expert and author of ‘The Parent’s Guide to the Modern World’ and ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Modern World’ (Clink Street Publishing, available from Amazon and all good bookstores)
“Carrying on as much as possible with normal day to day life is vital because that routine gives us security.”
Don’t force the issue
“Telling a young child you’re there for them is absolutely fine but you don’t want to force it, or force the conversation because that doesn’t give them security,” explains Curtis.
Encourage them to open up
Curtis says that when a child does want to talk, you have to make it OK for them to think about it. “What we tend to do is just ask them how they are feeling, which is a very open question, but they will often sit there in silence,” he explains. “That’s very important because what we do as humans is that we fill in the blanks, so we therefore don’t actually let a young person process their thoughts and work through the questions they have got.”
Though it’s a temptation for parents to assume they know how children are feeling and make suggestions, that doesn’t actually help someone deal with grief, all it does is give them something to say yes to. “If you’re telling someone how they feel they’re not going to feel safe, they’re just going to agree so they can get it over and done with,” Curtis explains.
Make it OK for them to talk about it
“Provided you’ve given them enough space to think through their thoughts, you’ll likely find that children will come out with some random questions,” advises Curtis. “Initially they’re probably not going to want answers for them but when they do you just need to respond appropriately. At this stage 75% of the conversation from the adults point of view should be in silence.”
Anne-Marie O’Leary, editor-in-chief of Netmums believes its important to answer any questions your children may have as honestly as you can and in a language they’ll understand. “And don’t be afraid to be honest about how baffled you are by death and loss too,” she adds.
Help them to make a plan to move forward
“Look at what you can do together to help them to move forward with their grief,” suggests Curtis. “Perhaps make some suggestions of things that have helped you to cope with sadness.”
He says that some of the more practical suggestions for moving forward like making memory or worry boxes are going to depend on the child. “It may be that they want to be proactive and make a photo display for the funeral, but for others its just about having the ability to have those supportive conversations regularly.”
Remind them about the joy in life
“The angle I always take with my kids is to gently confirm that life can deal terrible blows to any and all of us at seemingly random times. But those times tend to be thankfully rare and are usually balanced out by as many, if not more, inexplicably amazing, beautiful and joy-filled times, too,” says Anne-Marie O’Leary. “What matters is that we love and support each other through the tough times, and enjoy every second of the good times.”
Keep the Conversation going
“Grief isn’t just a one-conversation process,” explains Curtis. So it’s about asking the young person how often a conversation like that be useful? Encouraging them to say whenever they feel they need it.
Anne-Marie O’Leary agrees. “It may take more than one conversation to help your child understand and make sense of grief and loss, so be patient,” she says. “And it’s always worth reminding them of everyone who loves and supports them to help them feel secure in the face of the uncertainty.”
If you need further advice about talking to and supporting children going through a bereavement, visit the Child Bereavement UK website or call 0800 02 888 40.
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