Learning how to deal with grief is a difficult but important part of childhood development. From losing pets to grandparents, early childhood experiences of loss help set up your child’s coping mechanisms for grief later in life. We’ll discuss how you can use National Grief Awareness Week to talk to your children about this difficult subject.
What is National Grief Awareness Week?
This year, National Grief Awareness Week runs from the 2nd-8th December. It has been organised by the good people at The Good Grief Trust to help those living with grief, and those who have never experienced it, be better prepared. Grief is a normal feeling as everyone goes through it at some point – especially after the onset of a pandemic that has caused loss of life and illness – and that’s what they want to get across.
5 Stages of Grief
Lots of people have their own coping mechanisms, and there are the five stages of grief:
But every reaction and journey through these stages is unique, especially for youngsters who may not fully understand the loss and why they feel that way. The important thing is to educate them as best you can.
How to Talk to Children About Loss?
Coping with loss in childhood is not easy. There’s a level of understanding of a person’s needs and support systems, so a young child may not understand their feelings or why those around them are upset.
Parents, caregivers, and teachers can help children better prepare for grief and changes by learning to be resilient and accept change.
There are many ways to help children understand loss, but being honest and upfront about it is key. Grief is part of life, so is loss, change and more, so talking about it and introducing it early on can help children be more adaptable, confident and empathetic.
Here are some ways to introduce the concept of grief and loss in a child’s life:
1) Use your friends as an example – you likely know someone who has lost someone or has an ill family member, so why not explain what’s happening and why your friends act as they are? It will help the child recognise the symptoms of loss and worry and become more empathetic.
2) Use the world as an example – loss can be for a person or a thing, so if a plant or fish dies, use it as a teaching opportunity to explain the death and help them manage through it.
3) Watch TV shows or films that deal with loss, like Sesame Street, Charlotte’s Web, Big Hero 6, Bambi and more.
Another easy way to do this is through books. And they have the additional benefit of developing their reading skills too.
Many books are available about being resilient and dealing with change, though more will likely be released in 2022. To get started, here are a few to look out for:
Kids under five are in the midst of a huge learning curve as they develop their cognitive, social and physical skills to help support their later lives, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings of loss to deal with. There aren’t a lot of books about grief for under-fives, but there are some like The Building Boy by Ross Montgomery and illustrated by David Litchfield. It’s a picture book about a young boy who misses his grandma, so he builds a new one.
There are several books for younger kids about loss and change, and they deal with it very delicately in ways younger children can understand. One such book is Mums Jumper by Jayde Perkin. This picture book shares the story of a little girl and her dad as they overcome the loss of her mum.
Book collection: KS1 – Reading for Wellbeing
This collection is full of stories about difficult situations, changes and emotions to help children recognise, adapt and feel confident enough to deal with them in real life.
At this age, children are generally more aware of the world and are much more equipped to understand emotions and challenges, so there are a lot of books for this group about loss and managing emotions and wellbeing. One such story is Grandpa Was An Astronaut, written by Jonathan Meres and illustrated by Hannah Coulson. It’s all about cherishing relationships, and the inevitability of loss told through the eyes of young Sherman and his Grandpa.
Book collection: Lower KS2 – Reading for Wellbeing
This collection shares more about personal wellbeing and aims to help kids overcome fears and be more confident in challenging situations.
Jacqueline Wilson may be the ideal author for the older primary school kids as she writes a lot about pre-teen problems and shares how to manage issues that others don’t. The classic Tracy Beaker stories share tales of family issues and personal difficulty. Still, Vicky Angel is a story about Jade, who loses a best friend in an accident. Throughout the story, Jade comes to terms with the death and begins to see how Vicky may not have been a good friend in the first place.
Book collection: Upper KS2
These books are all about being determined and respecting yourself and your unique skills. They’re uplifting and show how children can overcome changes and difficulties.
Every person manages loss uniquely, so all you can do is prepare the children around you in gentle ways for when they eventually experience it. Don’t hide your grief away, be honest and upfront about it to help children realise it’s normal and acceptable.
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