Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, many children may feel sad and a little confused from seeing and hearing the news. They may ask lots of questions, which may spark some challenging conversations around death and grief. And if this isn’t the first experience of death, the national outpour of grief may even bring back some old feelings of grief tied to their own experience of the loss of a loved one.
Losing our beloved Queen provides an opportunity to have open conversations about death, funerals, and the grieving process. On the Mindful Champs blog this week, we wanted to share some tips on how to speak to children about grief as we know talking to a child about death can be a difficult and often overwhelming task.
1. Be clear with your language
Experts recommend that parents steer away from ambiguous phrases like “They’ve gone on a journey.” This can be confusing and lead children to ask, “When will they come back from their journey.” Although it might feel harsh and blunt, using words like ‘dead’, ‘died’ and ‘death’ is a lot clearer for children. Discuss the process with them (gently) and allow them to ask questions. It’s important that this opens the floor to a conversation, so the child feels they both understand and have been listened to.
2. Explaining what the word ‘death’ means
Generally, between the ages of 5 to 7 years, children begin to develop an understanding that death is permanent and irreversible and that the person who has died will not come back again. However, if they are younger, or even if it is the first time that they are experiencing the concept of death, they may not fully understand what it means. A clear way to explain the word death to children is to say something like:
“When someone dies, their body stops working and they can’t be brought back to life. They can’t do the normal things a body can do whilst it’s alive, for example, they can’t think, breathe, eat, walk, or talk anymore, and their heart stops beating too.” In the case of the Queen, it might be helpful to explain that the Queen’s body was very old and didn’t work properly anymore. To reinforce understanding further, it can be useful to use references in nature, such as leaves or insects dying.
3. Be honest
The most important thing to remember when talking to a child about death is that you need to be honest. Tell them what happened with sincerity. When children don’t fully understand what is going on, to make sense of things they may use their own imagination to fill in the gaps, which can be far more damaging to them if their thoughts are worse than the reality.
4. Give reassurance and let them know their feelings are normal
Every child will express how they are feeling in surprisingly divergent ways, this can come down to personality, as well as developmental age. Children may see the death of the Queen and feel scared of losing loved ones who are also elderly maybe, such as grandparents. Let them know that their feelings are normal.
In this case, offer your reassurance by telling them that everyone is healthy and won’t be dying imminently. If, however, there is a loved one who has been terminally ill, it is still helpful to reassure them that they are being looked after and that the Doctors are doing everything they can to make them feel better. Honesty in these situations is always the best option to avoid confusion and fear.
5. Don’t hide your emotions
If the Queen’s death has evoked emotions for you, try not to hide this. You may say something like, “Seeing Prince Charles upset losing his Mummy has made me think of my Mummy.” It is important for your child to see that you’re human; they benefit massively from witnessing your emotions and understanding that no one is a robot, we all feel sad sometimes and not every day is a happy one. This will help to enhance your child’s emotion-regulation skills, resilience, and overall perspective on the world, making them better equipped for all that life can hand us.
6. Encourage your child to journal
Witnessing the national outpour of grief in the media can inevitably resurface old feelings of grief from a previous experience of death and loss. If this is the case, talking about the death again is critical. However, this isn’t where grief should end for a child; I would encourage every child to journal too. Journalling can be a powerful way to foster self-reflection, self-confidence and self-awareness, traits which are invaluable during difficult times of grief resurfacing.
The Mindful Champs Grief Journal; specifically designed for children, is broken down into simple activities centred around helping children understand grief after losing a loved one. The journal can act as a private, personal space for children to reflect and delve into their emotions, something which shouldn’t be shied away from when it comes to death.
I hope this helps!
Lots of love,