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Briefing from Jigsaw charity

Jigsaw South East

Preparing children when a loved one is dying We recognise that this is a time of heightened anxiety for all, but especially so for your children, with the uncertainty brought about by the Coronavirus / COVID-19 outbreak. The loss of a close family member can be hard for children and young people to understand and difficult for adults to talk to them about. Children may ask many questions or they may say nothing at all. Either way it is not easy to support them when the family has experienced such a loss.

In the first of a series of briefings, Jennie Hatten, Service Manager at Youth Bereavement Charity Jigsaw (South East), offers us some helpful advice on how to prepare children when a loved one is dying. 

For more information about Jigsaw (South East), please visit https://www.jigsawsoutheast.org.uk/. If you need support or advice they are accepting self referrals.

Preparing children when a loved one is dying

“Talking to children about a family member who in unwell and not able to get better from an illness is never an easy task. As parents we naturally want to protect our children from emotional pain and suffering. This natural parental urge can be difficult to balance with the desire to be honest and upfront about harsh realities, such as talking about death and dying. We are often asked, “When is the right time to tell our children that a family member will likely die from this illness?” While there is no “right time” that works for every family, there is one certainty: children of all ages benefit from being prepared in advance for the death of someone close to them.

Telling children in advance about the potential death of a family member or friend is beneficial because it:

  • creates an environment of open and honest communication
  • enables children to get factual information from caregivers
  • leaves less opportunity for children to imagine different or inaccurate explanations
  • helps children make sense of the physical changes they see happening to a person who is unwell
  • creates an opportunity for the ill person to play a role in preparing children for the possibility of his or her death
  • allows time to put additional support systems in place, such as school counsellors and grief programs, where available
  • enables children to grieve with the adults in their lives, instead of alone and from the sidelines. Caregivers can help children understand that their emotions and those of others around them are healthy and natural
  • gives children the chance, when the death of a loved one is imminent, to say goodbye in a way that feels appropriate for them or to just be with the person with a shared knowing that their time together (at least physically) is limited
  • enhances the trust between children and their primary caregivers.

'Telling them the truth from the beginning sets the stage for an openness that needs to be there throughout the illness and afterward. When they are involved in this way, they will always be certain that they are part of the family. They will know that there are no family secrets that isolate them from each other and that do not honour what they see, what they know, and what they feel.' (p. 80) Phyllis Silverman,  Never Too Young to Know: Death in Children’s Lives.

For more information about Jigsaw (South East), please visit https://www.jigsawsoutheast.org.uk/. If you need support or advice they are accepting self referrals over the phone or by email – please call on 01342 313895. Jigsaw (South East) dedicated Helpline will be staffed between 9am and 12pm weekdays. *Outside of those hours please leave a message or use the contact form and they will respond as soon as possible. Alternatively you can email them at: info@jigsawsoutheast.org.uk

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