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When children grieve; explaining death to the little ones

When a loved one dies, it brings shock and confusion.

Whether it’s the loss of a father, mother, brother, sister, a sibling or a colleague, death is a state that unsettles the normalcy of daily life. Infact, the textbook five stages of grief do not always follow in a neat order.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance may never follow in this theoretical succession.

Grieving can be a mess!!

But let’s have a quick chat on how children grieve. Children below five years tend to see death as a temporary and reversible situation largely due to their influence by cartoons.

Infact, on screen, the cartoon characters die and come back to life  after a minute and they catch a snack and before you know it, they are back to play.

Grief Recovery is a method to help with the loss of a loved one, sometimes a pet or property.

 Soli Kiluta is a Grief Recovery Specialist.

Soli Kiluta, a Grief Recovery Specialist says that whereas not developmentally mature enough to fully understand the concept of death, children can understand that a life-changing event that affects family members took place.

The Grief Recovery Method is an evidence based approach to help people move beyond loss, whether its the loss of a loved one or less than loved one, divorce, the loss of health, safety, business or the over 40 different events that can bring grief to your life.

Mr Kiluta believes that a child should be told about death in age-appropriate language, instead of sugar-coating the truth and confusing them.

“It takes a while for children to understand the concept of death. We should not force our beliefs on them either until they are ready,” said Mr Kiluta.

“When we tell a three-year old child that Mummy went to be with the Lord, they grow up with an association that God takes away the persons that she loves most. Let us tell them the truth about death,” Mr Kiluta notes.

Children need to grieve too. Photo by Kat J on Unsplash

According to Mr Kiluta, the reaction of a child to death depends on the closeness with the person. The death of a close relative or friend would lead to feelings of anger, inability to sleep, acting younger than their age, bed wetting, withdrawal from friends  or a drop in their academic performance,” Mr Kiluta added.

Here are  a few tips on how to discuss death with a child

  • Use simple and clear words to explain what hapened
  • Listen to the child and allow them to share their feelings without analysis, criticism, or
  • Comfort the child, a hug is powerful
  • Help them put  emotions into words
  • Help your child to remember  the relationship and how they interacted
  • Be prepared for mixed reactions
  • Do not use euphemisms
  • Do not avoid the questions


As a Grief Recovery Specialist, Mr Kiluta takes individuals through an eight-week outreach programme and groups through a three day program that enables them acquire the skills and tools to process grief. The Grief Recovery Method helps people understand their lives better after devastation by personal loss..

Having gone through grief himself, Mr. Kiluta realized how hard it was to handle grief and so he went ahead and was trained to help others who are also grieving.

“The death of my father was devastating. It took me five years to accept that he was no longer going to be with us physically in our everyday lives,” said Mr Kiluta.,” said Mr Kiluta.

Here are 10 fast few facts about grieving;

  1. Grief is normal.
  2. You can never be well prepared for the death of a loved one.
  3. The way to get out of grief is through it.
  4. Your grief is intimately connected to the relationship.
  5. Grieving never ends. It is a part of you.
  6. We carry deceased loved ones with us throughout our lives.
  7. Grief can affect your immune system. Remember to take care of yourself.
  8. Individuals cope differently with grief, even identical twins have their own unique way to express grief.
  9. Some days are better than others.
  10. It’s okay to seek grief counselling.

Grief is one of the deepest human emotions. None of us is immune to grief.  And since there is no textbook on an acceptable and tolerable way to grieve,  let us appreciate that each person does it in their own way.




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