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On our way to see the new born goslings on the pond we noticed the coots had also got chicks.
As we excitedly counted the coot chicks, the heron swooped down right in front of us grabbed a chick, ate it and came back for another.
It all occurred so quickly there was no time to walk away or pretend it hadn’t happened.
My 3 year old and her friend were for a good while distraught but later they both drew pictures which they said were “Naughty Mr Heron” taking the coots and for the next few days talked about it non-stop to everyone they met.
Sometimes they were matter of fact – Mrs Coot would lay more eggs. Sometimes their stories subtly shifted what had happened – it wasn’t “our” nice Mr Heron who had done the dastardly deed, it was another Mr Heron from another park.
We had a similar experience at Easter time when our family cat died. We tried to be as straight forward as possible – Coco the cat had had a lovely life, but she was very old and had been poorly and she died sitting on the lap of someone she felt very loved by.
Again, there were lots of tears and a lot of talking about all the lovely and funny things Coco had done. We read many times over Badger’s Parting Gifts – a really beautiful book about death from old age and how we feel incredible sadness at losing someone but also great joy about all our wonderful memories.
And again there was constant story telling about Coco which in time wandered a long way from reality and which I wasn’t at all sure how to handle.
As it was Easter we had talked about Jesus dying but coming back to life because he was the son of God. We had also just read The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe – a surprisingly accessible book for any child starting to enjoy chapter books because it is so tightly written and so exciting – in which of course Aslan also comes back to life.
Coco the cat, we were told, had died before and come back to life before she finally died. Then, Jesus wasn’t the son of God, Coco was. And finally in a truly surreal moment at bedtime that Coco was the god of Sun.
Oh my goodness … what do I say? … where do I start to unpick this story telling?
Initially from cowardice but eventually from conviction, I decided to let her stories run their own course. Rather than correcting, I just listened. Children make sense of everything new by talking about it and making up stories that can be both brutally factual and muddled – and sometimes disturbing – fantasy in turn.
All I think you can do is:
- Sow the seeds of fact in being honest about what happened and what death means
- Show that it is OK to be both sad and angry through your own behaviour and through reading stories about grief – Chocolate Chipped, Michael Rosen’s SAD and Goodbye Mog in addition to Badger’s Parting Gifts are all in their own ways excellent for this
- Give children uncensored opportunities to explore both their feelings and their understanding in drawings, stories and lots of imaginary play.
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Bereavement & Grief
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