Talking to children

Caring for our children when we are thrown into grief ourselves is a big challenge. We turned to close family and friends and our wider community for help to care for our children when we could not. Some things helped us:

  • Keeping to routines as much as possible. For babies and small children especially, this gives them a sense of security through the upheaval. Some routines (bedtimes, meal times, going to school or usual activities) help all children feel more secure at times of stress. Our children need extra support and reassurance that they will be OK, and that we will look after them even when we are distressed. We asked trusted friends to help with this and to keep an eye out for our kids.
  • Young children (three years and up) need to be told simply and honestly what has happened. Tell them in a way they can understand. They will accept what’s happened and ask questions if they need to. We used photos and our children’s drawings and stories to talk about the person we’d lost and involve our children in saying goodbye.
  • Our older children will be grieving too. They may want to talk about their loss. They want to know they can do this and that someone will listen. They may want to spend more time with their friends. We learnt that it’s best to be honest and give them information so they are not left guessing about what’s happened. They often have ideas about how they’d like to be involved in planning the funeral and saying their goodbyes. This helped our children’s grieving and ours as well.
  • Our children sometimes express their grief through their play and some show their distress by wetting the bed or being more teary or sensitive than usual. We learnt that this is normal and it passes. When it doesn’t, it’s helpful to talk about this with a GP or health professional.
  • Some times our children may feel responsible and we needed to reassure them that what happened was not their fault. Sometimes we sought professional help for children when we felt concerned about them.
  • As parents, some of us felt fearful about our other children and needed to protect them, even over-protect them at times. We needed to learn to manage our own fear so it didn’t spread to our children and increase anxiety for them.
  • Schools, TAFEs and Universities can support children and young people when someone close has died. They provide student services including free counselling services.
  • We informed teachers and other key people and asked them to watch out for our children and young people following our loss. Teachers and school student services’ staff helped us with our concerns about social media and its impact on our young people.
  • Sports clubs and other social or community groups with which our children and young people are involved can also provide support and help maintain their usual routines at this time.

Read more on supporting children bereaved by suicide. Reachout has information for young people on loss and grief.