The death of a family member or close friend is an overwhelming experience that affects everyone. Children are particularly vulnerable during this difficult time as they may not understand fully what has happened or the events that led to their loss. Children's reactions to death and how well they cope depends on a number of factors, such as whether the person who died was close to them and was involved in their life; also on the child's age and level of understanding.
Death can seriously affect children's lives, especially if the loss affects their daily routine and the way in which they are looked after. Children often feel anxious about the future, worried and sad. They might blame themselves or worry that they caused the death by something that they did. They may also experience sleep disturbance such as nightmares and become withdrawn or aggressive towards others.
Children are in need of attention during this difficult time. Coping may also depend on the way family and friends respond to the loss and whether or not they provide the child with support. It is important for children to talk to a relative or trusted adult about how they feel, also to ask questions if necessary, as this may enable better understanding of the event. It is often helpful to become involved in family activities such the funeral as long as the child is supported throughout and is not forced to attend such events. Saying goodbye, such as writing a letter, drawing, lighting a candle or visiting the grave may also be helpful and enable the child to develop emotional coping skills.
It is important that children are able to express their feelings even at unexpected moments and that they are well cared for and told they are loved. Continuing with daily routines allows for stability and structure, and will enable them cope better through what can be a very distressing.
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