Bedtime worries: Talking to your child about grief and death

The sad news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II has touched many of us all around the world. No matter your views on the royal family, we have lost an iconic figure who young and old have looked up to.

It is likely that your kids are going to pick up on the news, even if they don’t understand it fully. They might see it on the tv and they will likely hear about it at school too. There might be a lot going on for your child at the moment, and they might express their worries at bedtime. 

It is normal for your little one to express their fears at bedtime, and to want to be close to you. They might start saying they are afraid of the dark, or don’t want to be on their own. We should never dismiss how they are feeling. Children’s imaginations are vivid, and bedtime can be a genuinely scary time. 

We want our little ones to know that their bed is a safe place. Listen to them and let them express what is on their mind and causing them worry. We want to listen without trying to fix or explain away what they are imagining. Respond by saying that you will always be there, and make sure they are safe, and remind them the are loved, cosy and safe in bed.

Having some good connection time before bed is really helpful, especially if your child has been unsettled or anxious – a good fifteen minutes before their bath where you take the time to play and spend focussed time with them (no technology!) can work wonders. Let them choose the activity and lead the way you play and spend time together.

Worries can surface at bedtime, but we can work on processing their feelings during the day. Role play can help., along with talking (when they want to!) and reading books around the subject of bedtime, and specifically the loss of a loved one in this case. 

Introducing a night light can work well for many little ones. Choose a ‘sleep friendly’ colour such as orange, amber, pink or red (blue and white based lights can stimulates us). 

Tips for talking to your little ones about death

Being honest is important, and using language that they can understand – children understand words very literally. I believe it is important to be factual and use the word ‘death’, and explain what that is in simple and gentle way so your child can understand what they are hearing said around them. You can use the natural world to contextualise it – talking about flowers blooming, and eventually dying as an example.

It is normal for your little one to be curious, and to role play death in their games. It can feel alarming to us, but it is their way of processing it. Children feel comforted by being allowed to express their feelings about it, without it being a taboo or scary topic. 

They might ask you lots of questions, or they might not say much at all. Try to be honest when they ask you about it. Talking about death might mean that they worry about losing you, or someone close to them. If we can be honest and open, it is less frightening for them. 

it is okay to show your emotions if you are upset, or if this has reignited your own past grief. this show your child that its okay to be upset, its nothing to be ashamed of. 

There are lots of fantastic book that can help you discuss the subject of grief and loss with your children, you can find a selection of them here: Grief and loss (5-8 year olds) | BookTrust.