How can I support my daughter?

My daughter is 8 years old and her father (we divorced 5 years ago) recently told her that her grandfather (his dad) is dying of a brain tumour. He also told her that he will more than likely die this year. He told her in the car on the way back to my house after a weekend with her. She is understandably devastated and her behaviour has become extreme. She has become incredibly violent and is refusing to sleep. I am literally at my wits end and have no idea what to do to support her or where to turn. I am literally black and blue where she has been hitting out at me. I have explained to her that it is normal to feel deeply upset and to cry and to feel angry but that it’s not ok to become physically violent. She is totally out of control and I am so upset to see her like this. I don’t recognise her anymore - she is usually such a beautiful, well mannered and sunny child. Of course she is still the person she always was but she is obviously dealing with a lot right now. Her 2 siblings (they are 5) are so scared right now because she is screaming, rampaging around the house pretty much all night every night and is hurting me. I am also 6 months pregnant and worried for my own safety. I have no idea how to address the night time issues. She basically wants me to sleep with her in her bed but we are unable to fit and I am scared that this will then become an expectation long term. I always read to her in bed each night and we have a cuddle before I say goodnight. When I try to leave, she lashes out. I have said that I will return to check on her every 5 minutes to make sure she is ok but again, she hits out and starts trashing her room and the house. Now I am aware she might be worried that other people close to her might die after she has received such sad news but we can’t go on like this. I took her to the gp this morning because I genuinely don’t know how to best support her through this tough time. They seemed pretty clueless to be honest. It is so painful to watch her go through this and not be able to help her. What can I do?

Hi m80e,

I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter’s grandfather and how the news is affecting her. That sounds very upsetting and difficult for you to deal with as a parent.

We have some information on our website about supporting children when a loved one is dying, which you might find helpful:
http://support.sueryder.org/practical-emotional-advice/how-can-i-tell-child-someone-they-love-dying
http://support.sueryder.org/practical-emotional-advice/how-can-i-support-child-when-someone-they-love-dying
As you have said, it is natural for her to be upset, but the violent behaviour is more of a concern. You have done the right thing in seeking support, and I’m sorry to hear the GP was not very helpful.

It would be a good idea to talk to someone at her school, as it is good for them to be aware of the situation and they may also have support services or be able to suggest them.

The charities Child Bereavement UK (0800 02 888 40) and Winstons Wish (08452 03 04 05) can offer advice on supporting children both with bereavement and when a loved one is dying.

Do you know if your daughter’s grandfather is getting any care through a hospice? If so, they will have a family support team and probably some specialist support for children.

I hope that you find it helpful to be able to write things down here - we have many users with different experiences of grief and terminal illness and its effects on families. Hopefully some of our other users will be along to reply to you soon.

Thanks Priscilla for your reply. I had a good chat with her dad on the phone yesterday and explained how the news was affecting our daughter. He has spoken to his dad about it and they are going to ring the hospice this morning to access some help for our daughter, which I am very relieved about. Our daughters grandad also rang her last night (this is the first time ever. She would normally see him when she visits her dad for he weekend) and I think just hearing his voice was a relief for her. The last time she saw him, he collapsed which was obviously very frightening for her and although she had been told grandad was home from hospital with nanny and ok, I guess this was not enough reassurance for her. It’s so hard to know what goes through their little minds, especially when they are reluctant to talk about things with you. Last night was much better and although Her sleep was interrupted (she woke 4/5 times), she was able to get back to sleep quickly each time. I think I have to accept that for now, I am her comfort blanket and normal rules around bedtime have been relaxed accordingly. So, last night, I accompanied her to the toilet (really strange that she wants me to do this but I guess she doesn’t want to be alone right now) and sat in a chair next to her bed when she fell asleep. When she woke in the night, I took her back to bed, tucked her in and again sat with her till she fell asleep. I really hope I am not making a rod for my own back, especially with a new baby due in 3 months but I feel it’s what she needs right now to feel safe. It was a relief to have no screaming, shouting or aggression last night although she is still annoyed I won’t stay with her all night. She also ate a big breakfast before school this morning so hopefully she has some appetite back after not really eating very much at all for a few days. X

I am so pleased to read this update, it sounds as though you have made some real progress, which must be a relief.

Your poor daughter - seeing her grandad collapse must have been so scary and it’s good she was able to speak to him and understand that he’s doing better now.

This is a lot for you to handle with a new baby on the way, but hopefully support from the hospice will make a real difference and take some of the pressure off you.

Hopefully she will get some help and you will be able to enjoy your new bundle of Joy when He/She arrive and your daughter will be more settled then

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