How do we explain sad events like bereavement to our children? 

We want our children to grow up in a happy world. We want them to see and appreciate the good in people. We want them to grow up to be good people themselves. Sadly, we are unable to control the outside world. During our own childhoods and lifetimes we would have experienced sad events, whether they were in the news, or closer to our home, our families and our hearts. So how do we explain sad events like bereavement to our children?

Due to recent sad events in London and around the world, it made me think about how we talk about these with our children. Families and friends out there are having to deal with tragedies and sudden loss. How are we going to talk about bereavement and loss? Our three-year old is naturally more and more curious. She is still living in her innocent bubble where her main concerns focus on princesses and unicorns. At any time I know she will ask us tricky questions. Some I want to be a little bit more prepared for.

Sad events such as bereavement and loss also appear in children’s films. My generation grew up watching Bambi. For me that was one of the first films we saw which featured death. Frozen is about two orphaned sisters although the focus is on magical ice powers and them being reunited. Up features a couple who experience miscarriage and then the husband is widowed. At some point, as parents, we will be talking about death, loss and bereavement in grown up terms.

Words are so important. A I’m typing, I’m more able to write the word loss rather than death. Sometimes Big Munch says “we don’t say the word kill do we?” when we read her books. The first time I heard her say this, I felt shocked. She knows that I don’t like her saying this word. Maybe she senses my uncomfortableness around words like this. Is she old enough to know about this word? In what context did she first come across this word? Did she pick this word up from nursery? Does she really know what it means? Maybe she does and she knows that it makes someone disappear. The word “died” appears in one of her Disney Cinderella books so I figured out she associates this with “kill”. So when do we need to start talking about death with our children? I’m not sure if I’m quite ready yet.

I’m no expert when it comes to dealing with loss or bereavement. I have lost members of my family like my grandparents and cousins and I dread the day we have to deal with bereavement face on. I have learnt a lot from how to deal with bereavement and loss from my husband and my in-law family. They have given me a different perspective on how we talk about death and loss to children.

One thing I’ve learnt is that we have to be honest with our children about what death and loss means. Someone isn’t coming back. Their life has ended but the memories cannot be taken away. I’ve learnt that I hope to talk about loss and death in real terms. The person has not gone to fairy land or away for a long time. I won’t be making up a story to hide the reality. They are no longer with us and sadly, it’s going to be painful. In cases of bereavement, children as well as adults need closure and need to understand somebody isn’t coming back. My Aunty and Uncle taught me is that you still talk about those who have died and it’s OK to mention their name. You never ever forget them.

Also, the feeling of bereavement and loss is never temporary. It is with someone for the rest of their life and can have a strong presence in everyday actions as well as special occasions or anniversaries. It’s a cloud that is always there.

So I hope I can encourage our girls to talk about how they feel whenever they experience bereavement and at whatever moment they feel sad. As Rio Ferdinand mentioned in the BBC documentary Being Mum and Dad, he hopes that his children talk to him when they feel sad or when they miss their mum. I hope our children will feel able to share any sad feelings with us.

Sad events happen and yes, we will have to talk about them. As our two girls grow up they will be more and more exposed to the news and tragic events around them. We can’t shelter them from the outside and online world. They will come home from school with difficult questions for us to answer. So when Big Munch starts asking more questions, we’ll do our best to explain in real terms as much as we can.

Who knows what I’ll be like when I need to talk about bereavement to my children. However much you prepare yourself to talk about this, you never know what it will be like feeling and talking about at the time. When I need to speak about all of this, I hope I’m strong and wise enough to give our children some gentle clarity on what loss and bereavement mean. Some questions I may not be able to answer, so I hope they understand. img_1252-2.jpg

There is a huge amount of support out there when it come to supporting families, parents, carers and children going through, about to deal with or who have gone through bereavement at whatever stage in their life.  As a starter, here are some helpful links about how we talk about bereavement with children. There is also a helpful BBC article for older children who are exposed to the news. – How to explain death to children and young people – Help around a death – What parents and carers can do

The Guardian – Explaining death to children

BBC Newsround – Advice if you’re upset by the news

Thanks for reading. It didn’t feel right publishing this blog post last week but having just watched Rio Ferdinand’s inspiring and eye-opening documentary I feel it’s an important topic to get out there. If you’d like to, please leave a comment below to share any thoughts of your own.




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2 thoughts on “How do we explain sad events like bereavement to our children? 

  1. Ali Tate says:

    Brilliant post Sunita. In my experience telling the truth to little one’s is so important – not using vague language. When I lost my Mum when L wasn’t quite 2 the hospice gave me such great advice about how to talk to her, but the main message was don’t be vague however difficult that might be as she might think Nanny is coming back.

    • Sunita says:

      Thanks so much Ali. You’re right. Telling the truth when it comes to bereavement is important. That’s good you had support and advice from the hospice about how to tell your little one about the sad family news. Xx

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