How to speak to children about the Queen’s death
The Queen’s death may have stirred up bewildering emotions in children who have no idea how to cope with the sudden sadness surrounding them.
Kids who may never have experienced a death in the family and have certainly never lived in a world without the Queen, may struggle to grasp what the current national mourning period is, and why their family may be sad and have shed a few tears.
“Grief affects everyone differently, and that includes children,” explains Bianca Neumann, head of bereavement at the bereavement support charity Sue Ryder (sueryder.org). “Children can experience all sorts of fears following a death, and they may worry that they or other people they’re close to will leave them or will die too.”
And parenting coach Ruth Duckworth, from Action for Children’s Parent Talk service (parents.actionforchildren.org.uk/) says: “Children will have been feeling all sorts of emotions.
“Loss is a natural and normal thing, and for some children this might be their first experience of loss. It’s a collective one, and it’s about helping them through it and helping them process it together.”
Here’s their advice on how to help children cope with the Queen’s death…
Actually use the word ‘dead’
The experts say parents should be careful about the language they use to talk to younger children about the Queen’s death – or indeed, any death.
“Some parents might use words like ‘loss’ or ‘gone’ or ‘they went to sleep’, but that can bring confusion, or even fear around children’s own bedtime,” warns Duckworth. “Use direct language like ‘died’, but the key thing is that it’s age-appropriate and the children understand it.”
Neumann agrees it’s important to use language children can understand, and parents should try not to use euphemisms. “Saying things like ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘gone to heaven’ can easily confuse children, making them think the dead person could wake up, or that going to sleep is dangerous,” she says.
“Even though you may find it difficult, it’s better to use the words ‘dead’ and ‘dying’, then check their understanding and explain if they don’t understand.”
Don’t worry about letting them see you’re upset
Parents may worry about their children seeing them upset about the Queen’s death, but Neumann says it’s actually fine to let them see your grief. “It’s OK to show you’re upset and to cry – this shows the child it’s OK for them to have the same emotions,” she says.
However, Duckworth stresses it’s important for parents not to lose control of their emotions. “It’s important to acknowledge your feelings, although if a parent is overwhelmed by grief, that can make a child more worried,” she explains. “Shedding a few tears is ok – actually, it’s really healthy as it’s showing it’s OK to be sad. But it’s also about being in control of your emotions.”
Encourage them to ask questions
Although kids are bound to have a lot of questions about what’s going on, Duckworth advises parents not to overload them with information. “It’s really important to have child-friendly explanations,” she says, “and it’s OK to say, ‘That’s a great question, but I’m not sure – I’ll get back to you with the answer’.”She says watching children’s news programmes like CBBC Newsround is a great way for them to understand what’s going on.
Neumann stresses it’s important to explain things fully but simply to kids, because if they don’t understand what’s happened, they may feel unable to talk about it themselves, or to ask questions. “This can make them feel isolated and frightened,” she says. “Don’t complicate things, just speak simply and factually with basic details. Let them know that if they ever want to know anything else they only need to ask.”
Be mindful that it may remind them of a past death in the family
When someone in the public eye dies, it can spark previous feelings of grief in both children and adults, warns Neumann. “Many of us will understand and empathise with what it’s like to grieve for an older relative or grandmother, so the death of the Queen may bring those feelings to the surface.”
She says it’s important to have conversations with children about how they’re feeling, because if they can’t express themselves, they could start to feel low, angry or frustrated. “Wherever possible you need to give children lots of opportunities to express their feelings. This could be through talking, through play, or through drawing and painting,” she suggests.
And Duckworth adds: “The Queen’s death could trigger memories for children, and adults as well. It’s really important that children go though the emotions they’re feeling, and for them to know it’s OK to be angry or sad, or whatever they’re feeling.”
Look for the positives
It may help to ask children to look for the positive influence the Queen had on them, and Duckworth suggests: “It’s important to celebrate the Queen’s life – what are the positive things about her life for your child? It could be looking back at things like the Jubilee and things children enjoyed about that, or maybe things they’ve heard about the Queen.
“They may feel sad about someone they’ve never met, but it’s about thinking of all those qualities the Queen had – that she was kind, caring, polite, generous and fun, and living by those values. Help children remember what she stood for.”
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