Children are the 'hidden mourners' in our society, says child health expert
Sir Albert Aynsley-Green was just ten years old when his father died unexpectedly in hospital. That event set a path for his own life: his decision to become a pediatrician and his current focus on helping children deal with bereavement and grief.
Children are the "hidden mourners" in our society because scant attention is paid to them when they lose someone important in their lives, he tells The Sunday Edition host Michael Enright.
Often, well-meaning comments about death, such as, "Mommy's gone to live with the angels in the clouds," can have unintended negative consequences, says Aynsley-Green.
Sorrow, anguish, solitude: this is a particularly toxic combination for children.- Sir Albert Aynsley-Green
In 2015, he was named president of the British Medical Association. He is now an independent consultant on children and child health and has taken a special interest in the field of childhood bereavement and is a patron of Britain's Childhood Bereavement Network.
Aynsley-Green says there is no "one size fits all children" solution. Every child has different needs, perspectives and understandings of what death means. However, what is important across the board is to provide children with information and education on what death means and, most importantly, to encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings and listen intently to what they have to say.
"In my book, bereavement means to leave desolate or alone, especially through death; and grief, in my book, is a deep and intense sorrow," says Aynsley-Green. "Sorrow, anguish, solitude: this is a particularly toxic combination for children."
"Staff caring for a dying adult should ask, 'What does the death mean for children in the family?' and we know from our research that this is hardly ever raised and children — like me at the age of 10 — are left bereft, confused and very, very uncertain. So 'think adult, think child' is my over-arching mantra."
Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.
Sir Albert Aynsley-Green recommends these books to help children through grief and bereavement:
- Grief in Young Children: A Handbook for Adults by Atle Dyregrov
- Grief in Children: A Handbook for Adults by Atle Dyregrov
- Waterbugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children by Doris Stickney
- Is Daddy Coming Back in a Minute? by Elke and Alex Barber
- What happened to Daddy's Body? by Elke and Alex Barber