Loss of a grandparent is often one of the first experiences children have with death of a family member. Some may already be familiar with the concept due to loss of a pet, while others may be totally unprepared when their grandmother dies. It can be especially difficult for children who have a close, loving relationship with their grandparents. Fortunately, there are ways you can help youngsters cope when their grandmother has died.
Explain what happened in simple biological terms. You can instill fears if you tell the child, "Grandma got very sick and went to the hospital and won't be coming back." He may become frightened of going to the hospital, or even to the doctor, himself because he thinks he might die. According to the Keep Kids Healthy pediatric advice website, it's better to explain the situation in terms of the body not working any longer. For example, you might say, "Grandma's heart had a problem and stopped working," or "Grandma got so sick that her body couldn't work anymore."
Tell the child that death is permanent. Very young kids have trouble understanding this, but school-age youngsters can usually grasp the concept. Athealth.com advises using simple, age-appropriate words and terms. This, combined with a biological explanation, will help ease worries that grandma will not be able to breathe when her casket is closed or that she will be cold "sleeping" underground, Keep Kids Healthy explains.
Talk to your child about his feelings. Also, let him know it's OK to be sad that grandma is gone, angry that he will never see her again or any other type of emotion. It's much more helpful to allow the child to openly express his emotions than to tell him, "Be a big boy and stop crying" or "You have to be brave about this." Athealth.com says it is not healthy to ask the child to suppress his feelings.
Allow the child to participate in the funeral and burial or another type of ritual. This gives her a chance to tell her grandma goodbye and helps her achieve closure. Do not force her to participate in the formal funeral if she resists. Arrange a private way to say goodbye instead, Keep Kids Healthy advises.
Encourage the child to share happy memories of his times with his grandmother. You can tell favorite stories, look through photo albums or watch videos of family get-togethers, Keep Kids Healthy suggests. This will help him to remember grandma in positive ways once he works through his grief.
A grandmother's death may cause the child to start asking general questions like, "Is Mommy (or Daddy) going to die soon?" or "Will I get sick and die too?" Keep Kids Healthy advises explaining that most people do not die unless they are old or very, very ill.
Keep Kids Healthy warns against using euphemisms for death when explaining it to younger children. Telling them their grandmother has gone to sleep forever or has gone away on a permanent trip can cause fears. Youngsters think literally and may be afraid to go to bed or to go away somewhere because they will never come back.