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From mourners gathering around Windsor Castle to offer tributes to the late Queen to the surprising re-union of the royals, Prince William and Prince Harry following their grandmother's demise, grief comes in many shades and forms. While adults receive acknowledgement for experiencing this pain, children are often left out in the cold. Amidst the most touching mourning messages, headlines hit a new with Prince Louis's words on the passing away of his great-grandmother. This also opens a new realm of discussion how kids perceive death and the loss of loved ones.
Recently, Kate Middleton opened up about her four-year-old son Prince Louis reacting to his great-grandmother's death. The child who recently floored social media with his beautiful message said: "At least Grannie is with great-grandpa now."
It is always a puzzle for most parents to break the news of death to their children. While some try to keep the child away from the concept as far as possible, some prefer honest confrontation. The approach taken has a lot to do with the age and previous experiences of the child.
Like others, the passing away of loved ones is not just distressing for children but also very confusing. Hence, it is important to understand that how children react to loss is not conventional. However, it must not be taken as apathy or lack of emotions. They just have a different language of experiencing grief.
As per UNICEF, kids below the age of five do not understand the permanency of death. They may often ask if the person who has passed away will come back. Children at this age are unable to understand the transition between life and death. This misconception is reinforced in them by cartoons where characters often pop back to life. They may often express grief in subtle ways like clinging close to the caregiver or wetting the bed. At this stage, the child won't see death as a permanent event. Also, the fear of death might not be that conscious.
Children at this stage may personify death as some demon or angel who might have taken their grandma or grandpa away. However, the concept of death becomes a little clearer as they come to terms with the finality of the event. Now, they know it is permanent. They might become interested in knowing what happens after a person dies. Fear of being separated from their loved ones may slowly creep into their minds.
Teenagers understand the permanency and casualty of death. However, they just don't know how to react to it. At this stage, some may show signs of apathy but it doesn't mean they don't care. They just don't know what to do with it. They think more abstractly and might seek a larger meaning of death. At this stage, they might experience anxiety about not having control over life and death. Teenagers very well understand that death is irreversible but might need help in tackling the emotional part of it.
As it has been said before, there could be nothing more tough and confusing than telling a child that a loved one has passed away. However, one must know that not being confrontational about the concept in the early days will make it difficult for them to cope with it in the advanced stages of life. Here are a few things you can do as a parent:
Experts advise parents neither to hide nor delay the truth from children. It is natural to protect your child, but being honest is the best approach. You must address them warmly, disclosing the news and also telling them that the body of the loved one has stopped working and they won't get to see them again.
Children might confront you with many questions, answer them patiently. It is just too new a concept for them to understand.
For children who don't understand the causes of death might become a victim to magical thinking. They might develop guilt for doing something or saying something that caused death. Always a good idea to check for such thinking and ask them once in a while, "Are you worried that Grandma died because of what you said or did?" From time to time, reassure them that a germ killed the loved one and it could have killed anybody.
Share how you feel about the situation with your child. Don't shy away from shedding a few tears in front of them. Make it normal for them to do the same.
Make them write a poem or make a drawing for the passed-on one. Help them vent out their emotions through creativity. You can also comfort them with relevant religious stories.
Cuddle or kiss them often. Give them more physical touch.
Funerals are important family rituals. They can be highly therapeutic for any family member. Studies have shown that families which are more confrontational about the concept of death with their wards provide them larger participation in these ceremonies. Funerals often involve sights that a child is not familiar with, such as the burial process. In some children, it might invoke curiosity, in others a sense of fear and they might get traumatized by it. As per some studies, whether a child wishes to attend or not must be their call. However, they must be informed in detail about what to expect when going to a funeral. Asking the child directly is the best course of action. You must know that there is no right or wrong age to attend a funeral for the first time. The important thing is that children must be informed about what they might encounter.
While many children later in life will resent not visiting a loved one's funeral, others will resent attending one. Hence, the dilemma is a tricky one.