Understanding death

Preschoolers need extra time and caring to come to grips with death

Q: My daughter recently passed away and now I am raising her children. The three-year-old boy is my main concern. He’s been potty trained for a while, but has started wetting the bed again, says no all the time, and doesn’t talk about his mom. How can I help him?

A: Your grandson does not yet fully understand the concept of death — that his mother will not come back. His behaviour, including the bedwetting, is his way of protesting his mother’s absence and expressing his grief. What he needs most is your love and reassurance that he won’t lose you too.

Keep trying to talk to him about missing his mommy, especially when he seems out of sorts. You will have to lead the conversation, as he will likely not have the words to express his complex feelings of sadness, abandonment, confusion and anger. Try to share with your grandson your understanding of his behaviour as an expression of his painful feelings. You can also talk about the enjoyable things he and his mother did together as a way of helping him keep her memory alive.

Your grandson’s grieving process will take place over many years, with certain times being more intense than others. If you are feeling too overwhelmed by your own grief to help your grandson, or if you continue to be concerned about him for longer than two or three months, consider seeking the help of a qualified professional. Some bereaved children can become depressed, so getting help sooner is better.