Page 1 of 1

Dealing with grief - advice for preparing 3 yr old

PostPosted: Sun 21 Apr, 2013 1:48 pm
by Eduncan
I have a nearly 3yr old daughter. My mother in law was recently diagnosed with aggressive, untreatable cancer and her health is rapidly declining. She is in the UK; we are going there within the week (as soon as I can organise our newborn's passport). she has lost a lot of weight, can not walk much and is struggling to talk. She was over here for Christmas so my daughter spent lots of time with her so not sure how she will react to her nanna's vast change in appearance and strength. I am hoping for some advice as to how to prepare my daughter for our visit.. I dont want to upset my mother in law if my girl acts strangely or is scared. And how should it explain to her that her nanna is very sick... How to explain when she does pass away... My little girl is very switched on, wont be fobbed off and if we dont have an answer will keep asking 'where is she?' And 'can i talk to her?' 'what is wrong with her?' I am not coping well with this myself and am sick with worry about how it will make it even more painful (if that is at all possible) for my husband, his dad and brothers if our little girl is asking persistent questions (as 3 yr olds do!). Not to mention what effect it will all have on her. Thanks in advance for any advice.

Re: Dealing with grief - advice for preparing 3 yr old

PostPosted: Wed 24 Apr, 2013 7:28 am
by NgalaOnline
Hi Educan. So sorry to hear about your mother in law. It must be such a hard time for you all so thank you for contacting us with such love and concern about your daughter and how this situation may affect her . The most important thing of all throughout this time is being there for your little one and supporting her as best you can.
Most of the literature available pertaining to the area of grief and loss in children suggests that the most important thing you can do is be honest with your child and encourage questions. This can be hard because you may not have all of the answers and as you mention you may yourself be struggling personally with your own grief. If you are able to, it is important to create an atmosphere of comfort and openness, and send the message that there's no one right or wrong way to feel.
A child's capacity to understand death — and your approach to discussing it — will vary according to the child's age. Each child is unique, but here are some rough guidelines to keep in mind.
Until children are about 5 years old, their view of the world is very literal. So it is best to explore illness and death in basic and concrete terms. You might think of explaining that grandma’s body wasn't working so well anymore and the doctors couldn't fix it. You may have to explain that "dying" means that the body has stopped working.
Children of your daughters age often find it hard to understand that all people and living things eventually die, and that this is final and they won't come back. So even after you've explained this, your daughter may continue to ask where her loved one is or when grandma is returning. As difficult as this may be for you and your husband, try to continue to calmly reiterate that grandma has died and can't come back to play anymore.
As much as possible, try to avoid using euphemisms, such as telling your daughter that grandma "went away" or "went to sleep" or even that your family "lost" the person. Your daughter thinks so literally at the moment that such phrases may prove confusing for her.
We hope that this provides just a few ideas for you to help you on this difficult journey.
If you have not already visited the site, the Cancer council have some really good information and publications. They have a wonderful helpline. The Cancer Council helpline number is 13 11 20 and their website address is
We really wish you all the best for this trip to England and remember the most important thing is that you daughter feels supported by you at this very sad time.
Kindest Regards.