Developed by a team of grief experts and families who have experienced loss, this comprehensive new website has a multitude of resources and tips to help parents support their kids through grief
Three years ago, my husband died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 49, when our son Max was almost 9 years old. The hardest aspect, by far, was trying to figure out what to tell Max about the illness, answering his difficult questions like, “Is daddy going to die?” and finding a balance between not giving heartbreaking information sooner than necessary but being honest enough that he felt he could trust me.
Thankfully, I had a friend who knew a Canadian grief expert, Andrea Warnick, who guided me through what to say to Max during my husband’s 16-month illness.
In November, Warnick helped launch a new national initiative by the Canadian Virtual Hospice to help parents, guardians and caregivers talk with children about dying and death. KidsGrief.ca is a free, bilingual online resource that addresses various topics in a straightforward, practical way by providing strategies, talking points and video clips of families who have lost someone close to them.
The website has three main sections. The first one is Understanding Children’s Grief and Finding Teachable Moments, which gives examples of common reactions to dying and death from kids of different age groups. It also covers signs of grief, which often manifest in stomach aches, difficulty sleeping, exhaustion or changes in appetite.
The second is Talking About Death and Dying, which highlights why it is important to be honest and talk to children early on about a loved one’s illness. It explains that the best way to protect grieving children is to give them clear information and support that is right for their personality and maturity. Not doing so can make matters more difficult for them and have a long-term impact on their wellbeing.
This section also covers how to have that first conversation, preparing for an approaching death and how to encourage and respond to questions. It explains the very common concerns children have when someone they care about is seriously ill, dying or has died. Referred to as the four Cs, they are: Can I catch it? Did I cause it? Can I cure it? And who will take care of me? The website explains that it is important to address these topics with kids as they are likely thinking about them even if they may be too afraid to ask an adult outright.
The third section is Supporting a Grieving Child. It covers a range of topics, including strategies to help children feel safe and secure, ways to cope when death is sudden or from suicide, as well as practical information about funerals, memorials and other rituals.
One useful tip for parents in this situation is to understand that unusual behaviour in children can be caused by feelings related to their grief.
For example, the website states: “If your child clings to you when you drop them off at daycare, they might be frightened you’ll die too. Try asking: ‘I’m wondering if you feel worried when I say goodbye at daycare.’”
Apart from the three main sections, there are also book recommendations, resource lists by province and an area where people can ask questions to palliative care experts, nurses, doctors, pharmacists or social workers.
This website is a gift to people who are facing such difficult life situations. It is a wonderful resource that can equip parents with the words and confidence to help their children grieve losses in healthy ways.
KidsGrief.ca, funded by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority and Hope & Cope, builds on MyGrief.ca, an online resource for grieving adults launched by the Canadian Virtual Hospice in 2016.
For more information, visit kidsgrief.ca.