Does anyone know how to talk to a child about grief and loss? It’s a sincere question, because I certainly don’t have the answer. I can only use my own experience to inform my past-self which perhaps isn’t as helpful as I like to imagine. One thing I wish I had known as a child experiencing grief was that talking about it doesn’t have to be awkward, and it’s not something that an adult will consider to be an inappropriate topic. The amount of resources out there is heartening; I hope that other people find them useful and supportive.
Heads Together is an initiative backed by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, aiming to tackle stigma around mental health and normalise conversations that focus on mental health. From, this, the Mentally Healthy Schools programme was born – due to be rolled out across the UK later in 2018. You can read more about the programme and sign up for updates here. Talking about mental health issues is, as we know, extremely important and this extends to the experience of grief and loss. Children can find bereavement a traumatic and confusing experience and one that can leave a lasting impact and many organisations have underlined the importance of not shying away from potentially difficult discussions with children who have experienced a loss. This sentiment was underlined powerfully in the public arena when the Duke of Cambridge spoke about the loss of his mother (he was aged 15 at the time), quoting her saying “grief is the most painful experience“.
Another organisation addressing the often complicated feelings relating to loss is Grief Recovery UK, who acknowledge that processing any kind of loss is essential to a person’s well being. They train Grief Recovery Specialists that offer support across the UK, and they have specific resources for helping children deal with loss. It doesn’t just look at loss relating to a death; the organisation supports adults in helping children process other types of loss too, some of the articles can be found here. There’s a particularly useful list of Dos and Don’ts when discussing the news and current events with children; mass public grief might appear to be a similarly shared experience, but that’s not to say a young person may have difficulty processing potentially frightening large-scale events.
Cruse is a charity that works with bereaved people across England (and they’re the charity that supported me when I lost my father unexpectedly when I was in my 20s). My grief counsellor was instrumental in helping me address a myriad of conflicting and often confusing emotions – if an adult in her 20s finds a loss so traumatic and needs help to process it, I can only imagine how gargantuan the task of moving forward seems to a child. My primary takeaway from Cruse was it’s normal to talk about the person we lost, even years later. They also have a specific section on their website here about grief and children.
It is the hope of organisations like those mentioned above that grief is included in the conversations about mental health; and as it’s Children’s Mental Health Week, there’s no better time to ensure that you’re prepared to approach the subject.