Telling chil­dren about death vi­tal

Waihi Leader - - News - By ME­LANIE CAMOIN news@wai­

How do you tell a child about dy­ing? Do you even speak about it at all?

These ques­tions are at the cen­tre of play spe­cial­ist and fam­ily ther­a­pist on loss and grief Deb­bie Mills-Henry’s new book.

Deb­bie is also a youth worker at the Waihi Com­mu­nity Re­source Cen­tre.

She says there is not one way to talk about death, but it is im­por­tant to let chil­dren know about death and dy­ing.

“Tell the truth in ways chil­dren will un­der­stand by ex­press­ing them­selves through creative ac­tiv­i­ties,” Deb­bie says.

For over 25 years, Deb­bie has been work­ing with fam­i­lies in the UK and New Zealand and across the Hau­raki Dis­trict to help them raise these dif­fi­cult sub­jects.

One of her ex­pe­ri­ences led her to write a chil­dren’s book, The Birth of a But­ter­fly, to talk about dy­ing in a way chil­dren would un­der­stand.

“I worked with a fam­ily where the dad was dy­ing and I had to sup­port the chil­dren through­out the process. I came up with the metaphor­i­cal im­age of a cater­pil­lar turn­ing into a but­ter­fly to ex­plain the process to them,” she says.

Deb­bie says chil­dren need to know the truth to help them griev­ing. She uses creative tech­niques such as draw­ing pic­tures of their loved ones, play­ing and pup­petry to ex­press chil­dren’s feel­ings.

Deb­bie says al­though the book is fo­cused on chil­dren from five years and on­wards, par­ents can ben­e­fit from it too.

“The book helps par­ents re­flect and give guid­ance to start a con­ver­sa­tion about it with their chil­dren.

“For chil­dren, there is no need to read it as a story, but in­stead they can look through — the pic­tures speak for them­selves.”

Copies of the book, which she printed her­self, are in Nga¯tea where she cur­rently works and also in Waihi. Oceana Gold, Lith­gow and Ken­ning­ton Engi­neer­ing all pur­chased 10 copies each.

Deb­bie has sold 100 copies and there are around 900 left. She wants to have not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tions, schools and busi­nesses spon­sor more. The story has been edited by par­ents who have lost chil­dren, and chil­dren who have lost par­ents too.

“Every­one who will spon­sor copies, I can add their or their or­gan­i­sa­tion’s or com­pany’s names on the first page,” she says.

Deb­bie says the book does not age over time as the topic re­mains rel­e­vant. I would love to see a world where we can stand up and talk about death just as freely as other top­ics,” she says.

The books are $15 each. Fam­i­lies can buy their own copies too.

■ To buy or spon­sor copies, con­tact Deb­bie on 021 187 1855 or email: rip­­mu­ni­

Play spe­cial­ist in Nga¯tea and fam­ily ther­a­pist on loss and grief Deb­bie Mills-Henry.

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