DOC4FCDFC75D8166 - Bereavement Advice Centre

What do we tell the Children?
Dr. Katie Koehler
Assistant Director of Bereavement Services
Formerly known as The Child Bereavement Trust
A simple child
That lightly draws its breath
And feels its life in every limb
What should it know of death?
William Wordsworth, We are seven
The Elephant in the Room
There’s an elephant in the
We all know it’s there.
We are thinking about the
elephant as we talk together.
It is constantly in our minds.
For, you see, it is a very large
It has hurt us all.
But we don’t talk about the
elephant in the room.
Terry Kettering
Families in grief
At a time when partners need each other most and
children need their parents, they are often unable to
be emotionally available to each other because
they are consumed with their own grief.
of death/dying
Relationship with
person who died
Factors affecting
the grieving process
The child,
Tasks of Mourning
• To accept the reality of the loss
• To experience the pain of grief
• To adjust to an environment in which the person who
has died is missing
• To emotionally relocate the person and move on with life
J William Worden
A Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement
Stroebe & Schut (1999)
Everyday Life
Grief work
Attending to life
Intrusion of grief
Doing new things
Distraction from grief
of restoration
Denial/avoidance of
New roles/identity/
In working with grieving families, we all
bring our own
hurts and losses
feelings about loss by death
desire to care for others
ability to reach out and involve ourselves
inability, when overpowered by the horror or
tragedy of a child’s death and our own sadness
“A Child Dies; a Portrait of Family Grief.” Joan Hagan Arnold & Penelope Buschman Gemma 1983 .
Effects of bereavement on children
Physical health
Cognitive responses
Behavioural responses
Emotional responses
Indirect impact
• Closed communication that can be
detrimental (Holliday 2002) .
• The nature of the sibling relationship
(Hindmarch 2000)
• Role of the surviving sibling is affected
(Holliday 2002)
• Parental overprotection can affect self esteem
and independence (Gibbons 1992)
• (Holliday 2002)
Secondary losses
Loss of security
Loss of attention
Loss of normality
Loss of confidence
Children’s experience of
• Loss of the living as well as the dead
• Adults can seek support, children are left with
what is given to them
• Act out feelings rather than speak them
• Revisit their grief at each life stage
What can we do to help?
Understanding, love and sensitivity
To be involved
Opportunity to express feelings
To revisit their grief as they become older
Children can only cope with what they know
Wolfelt 1996
• Is promoted by:
Scholastic competence
Supportive relationships
Ability to share
Familial emotional support
Family Support
• Bereaved children are protected by their
relationships with surviving family members
(Harrington & Harrison 1999)
• Families with higher cohesion,
active/recreational orientation and
moral/religious emphasis had children with
fewer behaviour problems post bereavement
(Davies 1988)
How do I talk to a child about death?
• Be honest
• As soon as possible: or may undermine confidence in
• Begin talking to the child about what he/she
experienced or noticed
• Use the adult reality
How do I talk to a child about death?
• Let him/her ask questions as often as he/she wants
• Answer questions accurately
• Watch out for the child’s tendency to blame him/herself
• Give clear message it was not his/her fault
• Encourage child to remember and talk about the person
who has died
The Guiding Principles
• Young people need, want and deserve
honesty, truth and choices.
• You can not “fix it”.
• Grief is a normal, healthy, response to loss
Based on an article written by Donna Schuurman, The Dougy Centre
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