Photo: press service
The death of a loved one is an irreparable loss and indescribable pain, which in order it takes time, support and understanding of those around you to experience and understand.
Since the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Russia on the territory of Ukraine, unfortunately, people are losing their closest relatives every day. And if an adult is able to find the resources and strength to cope with grief, what about children? How to explain to the smallest that those they love so much will not return, what words to choose so as not to traumatize the child's psyche even more? WORRIES“ Olena Naumenko is figuring out how to tell a child about the death of a loved one.
Olena Naumenko. Photo: press service
Once, with my small and very limited eight-year-old client, we were playing “words''. The game is very simple, but interesting, and, as is quite often the case in psychotherapy, unexpected. We took turns naming the words, just taking them at random from the book or, as my little client used to say, “making it up from the top of our heads''. For example, you say the word “snow” or “mood”, then you imagine: what does this word taste like, what is its color, what does it smell like, what does it sound like, and so on.
We were playing, and suddenly the word “grief” was heard. I was about to answer, but the guy suddenly became very serious, bit his lower lip, frowned in a grown-up way, and said: “You know that Elena Mykolaivna, I want to tell you about this word myself. OK?” And then he began to speak quietly: “Woe is black, huge, and salty in color.” This is the phrase I remembered the best: “salty color” black children's grief. And then the boy finally began to talk about what he could not talk about before: he had neither the words nor the strength to do so before.
He told how he experienced the death of his beloved grandfather… how his parents tried to hide such a heavy loss from him. How did they come up with the idea that grandfather “went somewhere for a long time”? And the boy was scared. Very scary. But he pretended to believe them, but he himself was terribly afraid of something, and then he became angry with his parents. Especially when he learned the truth from strangers. That's when he got so angry that he almost stopped talking to his parents. He published this whole story in one breath in a quiet & colorless "colorless" voice… And then, finally, he cried,” says the psychologist.
Talking about death is difficult, but extremely important. The main thing is to find a way to do it so as not to harm.
You always need to tell the truth to a child, no matter how painful it is, no matter how much you want to protect him from the feelings of loss. Very often, parents are afraid to be frank, because they think that it will be too difficult for the child to understand the situation, and adults will not be able to find the right words to explain correctly. But in reality, a child always senses a lie. And the unknown and the understanding that the closest people are hiding something from her only creates fear, mistrust and the desire to withdraw into oneself. We, adults, try to save our children from dwelling on difficult feelings: “They are children!”. However, we often forget that “the road is paved with good intentions in…” not at all to heaven.
Of course, at the beginning it will be difficult for a child to understand and understand that death is an irreversible process.And just like in adults, the trauma of loss can be deep and complex. Therefore, the support of relatives is extremely important. Share the pain with the child, walk the path of mourning together and help the child keep in his heart and memory a bright image of the person who is no longer there.
It is worth being prepared for a different spectrum of emotions in a child when experiencing a loss – it will be pain, sadness, anger, and sometimes even a sense of guilt, as if it is because of the child that a loved one is no longer there. Therefore, you need to constantly talk to the child, explain that he is not guilty of anything. And repeat it until the child accepts it.
The burning process can last up to a year. However, if it takes longer, we can talk about delayed or complicated grieving, and then you should seek help from a psychologist. It is very important to apply in time so that children do not have deeper problems in the future.
Photo: press service
One of the relatives should tell about the death of a loved one. The one whom the child trusts the most. In simple words, in an accessible form, tell what and how it happened. Explain that death is an inevitable process from which there is no turning back. A small child needs someone to lean on – and it's only the closest adults who take care of the child. It is important to choose a quiet place where you can tell the truth to the child in words he can understand. In no case do not use the words “Your dad fell asleep for a long time,'' “He went on a trip,'' etc. Also, avoid the metaphorical phrases “Man is looking at you from heaven'', “Man has gone to God''. Sometimes it is very difficult for relatives to tell the truth, so they decide to remain silent, to pretend that nothing happened. They believe that the hidden reality is better than the truth that is. And this is a big mistake.
Children have a very hard time accepting the concept of death and even after a funeral they may ask when a loved one will return. But these are features of the age, so no metaphors – only the truth. This does not mean that our feelings or memories have died. Sometimes a child can be angry with a person who has passed away – this is also a normal reaction.
Give the child the opportunity to experience his grief, do not deny her feelings, but on the contrary, support any emotions – sadness or sadness or anger or tears. Allow the child to talk about his pain. You can also use other ways to help your baby express pent-up feelings. For example, with a small client, we drew a portrait of grandfather, wrote stories, memories of funny, sad or silly moments of their communication. Sometimes the boy silently sculpted or worked in a therapeutic sandbox (worked with sand).
As for whether to take a child to a funeral, this is an extremely delicate matter. Our country is very big and each region has its own customs. For example, in the west of Ukraine, children go to church from an early age, they understand the rituals of worship, church holidays, funerals or wakes. In other regions, the situation may be different. Therefore, it is impossible to say that the child must be taken with you. Only the closest people know the characteristics of the child's health, his psycho-emotional characteristics, therefore only they can decide how active the child's participation in the burial should be. If you still decided to take the child with you, monitor her condition. If necessary, it is better to take the child from the funeral to another place.
Parental love means: I will teach my child to be strong and resilient. Using my own example, I will show how to behave decently in a difficult situation and not break down. Straighten up and find resources for further life. New and beautiful.
Do you remember the well-known parable: it is important not to give fish every time, but to give a fishing rod and teach yourself to fish. This also applies to parental responsibility.
If you feel that you are still unable to talk to your child about death, I strongly recommend reading Svetlana Roiz's book “The Secret of Life and Death”.
If you or your children need psychological support, contact the hotline “ Circles of care” – 0800331391
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