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Telling a child about the death of a grandparent

Telling a child about the death of a grandparent

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The passing of Nan or Granddad may be the first experience your child has of death. What, and how you break the news to them will depend on many things – the age of your child, the relationship they had with the grandparent, how mature they are, and so on. We all want to protect our kids from painful experiences, but learning how to cope with the reality of mortality is an emotional skill they will almost inevitably need in life at some point. The death of a grandparent can be a good opportunity to help them learn how to cope with grief.

Protection is No Protection

With grandparents, their death is often anticipated because of illness. Pretending to your child that everything is alright is not going to help them. Sooner or later you won’t be around to offer that protective shroud. Kids are often more emotionally intelligent than we give them credit for, and will pick up on body language and shifting emotions in the adults around them.
If they are aware that their grandparent is poorly, take the time to gently explore the idea that death may be imminent, and help them navigate their emotions during this difficult time. In approaching the situation with such openness you are helping your child develop their own coping mechanisms that they will need to rely on at various key moments as they grow into adulthood and beyond.

Confront the Fear

Many children have similar emotional reactions to illness and death, and an awareness of these can help you to encourage your child to share their feelings, and dispel any myths that may be troubling them. Common reactions in children are:

• ‘It’s my fault’ – kids often feel angry towards parents or grandparents, perhaps for being told off, or disciplined at some point. When illness and death then strike, a child can feel responsible. It is vital to let you child know that nothing they have done, and no thoughts they have had, are the cause of the situation
• ‘I might catch the bug’ – if a grandparent is ill, it’s important to let your child know that the illness is not contagious (as long as it’s not!). They may fear that they or their siblings, or Mum and Dad, may also fall victim to it. It brings a sense of their own immortality to the fore
• ‘Life will change’ – the illness and death of a grandparent is far less disruptive in most cases than the death of a parent, but nevertheless it may still create a period of uncertainty in the child’s life. Mum and Dad may have to be away for a short time, there may be visits to strange environments like hospitals and hospices. Ensure your child is aware of what is happening, and if possible give them something to do so they can feel involved if they wish to

Control the Situation

telling a child about tthe death of a grandparentDon’t let it control you. There will be emotions of your own to deal with as you assimilate the demise your parent, but it is important you don’t neglect your own child at this point. Keeping your child updated on what is happening can help you to feel more in control of the situation yourself, and will help your child to feel more secure too.

Be clear with your child about what death means. There is no sugarcoating this, and the best approach to avoid potential confusion is to be matter of fact. ‘Grandpa can’t come back. Being dead means his body doesn’t work anymore.’ Don’t tell your child the grandparent is sleeping, or has ‘gone away’, as both these states suggest the possibility of a return.

Your child will doubtless have many questions, about the why and how of illness and death, and the practicalities of what happens to the body, such as whether the grandparent can still feel and hear, and so on. Answer honestly, and let you child know it’s okay to be sad and to cry. This is part of the healing process, and it is vital they understand that it is acceptable.

Children are generally very emotionally resilient, and provided you are honest and open with them in an age appropriate way about what is happening, you may be surprised at how capable they are of dealing with the situation. If they do struggle, give them as much time as they need, and be prepared to reassure and support them. Your love and care at this point will stand them in good stead for years to come.




About Cally Worden

About Cally Worden

Seasoned freelance writer Cally Worden lives with her family and dog in a quiet corner of rural France. A love of the outdoors, and a fascination with her children's ability to view life with fresh eyes provide the inspiration for much of her work. Cally writes regularly for various websites and UK print publications on subjects as diverse as parenting, travel, lifestyle, and business, and anything that makes her smile.

Website: Cally Worden

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