Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Grief and preschoolers

It’s now 16 months since the lady of the manor’s mum passed away, I’ve put off writing this post for quite a while, unsure exactly what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. But part of the reason I started this blog in the first place was to share the perspective of being a dad in a world where us dad’s don’t do a good job of talking about how we feel or what we are experiencing. At least when it comes to being a parent that is, men probably do too much talking when it comes to other topics not least politics. But today I’d like to talk about grief and preschoolers.

Grief is such a personal thing, how someone reacts to and feels about losing someone is specific to them and we all deal with it in a different way. It also has a habit of sneaking up on us when we’re least expecting it bringing all those feelings of pain and anger back to the surface. When you then add the complication of the person grieving being 3 or 4 years old it’s hard as a parent to know what you should do. I can remember that night vividly as I sat Matilda and Henry down to try and explain to them what had happened to their nanna and why mummy wasn’t going to be home for a few days. Even writing this now I’m having to hold back tears. How can I, their dad who loves and protects them, be the one to shatter their innocence and bring such heartache into their lives at such a young age? My beautiful, happy little children who have been robbed of the pleasure of growing up with their nanna in their lives.

Nanna and Henry

Henry so far has been mostly ok, I think he was little too young to really understand what was happening and so hasn’t got so upset or sad. Matilda on the other hand has always been very aware of feelings and also had a close bond with her nanna and really struggled to process the idea that she wouldn’t see her again.

Undoubtedly one of the toughest times of my life let alone as a parent, but I wanted to share a few thoughts on what I learned about helping a child of preschool age deal with grief like this.

They probably won’t understand it the first time

You’re likely to have to tell them a few times what has happened before they understand. When I told them the news I wasn’t sure what reaction to expect but there wasn’t much reaction. Then a few hours later and in subsequent days you could tell their brains had been processing it and they’d ask me questions and want to talk about it more. We also found that whenever we’d spend time with Pops it would remind them that nanna had gone, children of this age live so much in the present it takes time for the change to really sink in.

Be honest

My advice is whenever they ask you a question is to be honest, gentle of course but definitely honest. It can be very easy to try and add some fluff to what’s happened to make it less real but I think that’s just creating problems for later. Clearly they don’t need the gory details but they do need to know the person has gone. I’m not religious at all and it felt wrong to talk a lot about god and heaven, talking with Matilda we settled on the idea that nanna was now a star looking down on her. It made her comfortable knowing nanna was ‘somewhere’ and not just gone.

Use books to help you

We have a couple of books that deal with loss; Mog the Cat and xxxx. Reading these with the children helped introduce the idea of something dying without having a direct conversation about it. A much gentler way to help them understand death and I found they’d often then want to talk about how that was what had happened to nanna. Letting them bring it up always makes them more receptive to the conversation

Don’t force it

My final advice is don’t try and force them to talk about or to be sad. Let them take the lead in the conversation and talk as little or as much as they want. But you can help ensure they have opportunities to talk about by having books to read like the above or simply having photos at home of them with the person. We found this really effective and also reminds them of happy memories with the person rather than the sadness.

Nanna and Rupert

That’s my thoughts, just my experience nothing else but hopefully useful if you ever find yourself in the same situation. Would also love to hear how you’ve helped your children through the loss of a loved one.

6 Comments

  1. So sorry for your loss, for all of you. I dread this happening. it must be devastating just losing a parent, let alone having nanna taken away from your little ones. I never thought of the one about telling them a few times. It makes perfect send though with their little minds filled with so much all at once and forgetting or not quite appreciating the depth of what’s been told to them x

  2. Ben that was extremely well written. I still find it difficult at times and always ask why my little sister. As you say remembering the happy times helps a lot. Its nice to know Matilda Henry and Rupert with you and Alex to help are coping. 💖

  3. Ben thank you for writing this – we don’t talk enough about grief and you do such a good job of highlighting the issues for little ones at what is a difficult time for everyone. When my Father died last November the toddler didn’t understand at first and even now he asks where Grandad is sometimes. We’re very matter of fact and open about it and I cried openly in front of them so they knew it was OK to be upset. My daughter read a poem with me at his funeral and was amazing x

    • Thanks Michelle, really sorry to hear about your dad. I know my FIL found it really tough seeing Matilda and having her ask those sort of questions. But you have to let them see it’s ok to be sad and that we all miss them too.

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