At some point in their lives, children will have to face the death of a relative, friend or even of a beloved pet. At this time, while adults may feel understandably reluctant explaining death to children, the healthiest approach for children dealing with death is to talk about it. Children of any age absorb the gravity of a situation and can become very worried or scared. To talk about death with a child is the best way of understanding and shaping what they think and feel, and also helps them deal with the loss.
Parenting Tips to Talk About Death
Explaining death to a child is a delicate task, and one that should be prepared for. Some feel it is best to help children deal with death by discussing it when viewed from a distance, such as on the news, or if a dead bird or squirrel is found on the road; this way children are familiar with the idea before it experiencing it personally. Some parents feel it is only necessary to talk about death when a child has questions, and will not bring it up otherwise. The truth is, death can come at any time and children will have questions as soon as they observe it. Very young children will require only a few answers, while older children may have more complex feelings or reactions.
Explaining Death to Children
- Reveal information only in an age-appropriate manner, and refrain from over-explaining. It is best to keep your own answers short and concise, and let the child talk instead. This way you’ll understand how a child wants to be told, and how much he or she needs to know.
- Talking about death through euphemisms is not always a good idea. Telling a child that the deceased has “gone to sleep” or “gone on a journey” can convey the wrong impression and lead the child into thinking they’ll wake up or come back.
- Younger children will find it hard to understand that the deceased is not going to come back, and will keep asking. Explain death to children patiently and with love each time, but make it clear from the start that a person does not come back after they’ve died.
- Religious or personal beliefs that you or your family hold often provide solace to a bereaved family, and can help children dealing with death too. Explain your beliefs about people who have died, whether they go to Heaven, become angels or stars, or become a part of us forever.
- It often helps children dealing with death to be involved in funerals or rituals, but only if they are willing. Prepare them in advance for what is going to happen, and warn them that there will be adults crying.
- If the death is within the family or the child’s close circle, routine can be a reassuring and comforting part for children dealing with death. When children have a familiar routine, they tend to feel safe, and in the midst of all the new fears and emotions, it can help them deal with their emotions.
- Encourage children to talk about death, as well as their own ideas and grief. Children can be very sensitive and not cry because they don’t want their parents to feel sad. Telling them that you also feel sad and want to cry helps them to share their own reactions.
Just as it helps adults to have a memorial service, children dealing with death will benefit from a ritual that gives them closure. If a child is too young or is unwilling to attend a funeral, decide with the child what you’d like to do to say good-bye to the deceased relative, friend or pet. Suggest different ways: visiting a grave, planting flowers in their memory, setting aside a special time to talk about them, making a scrap-book or album, making a patchwork quilt from favorite clothes or drawing pictures. Your child will pick one, or will come up with one on his or her own.
Above all, allow time for grief and mourning. Children dealing with death go through different stages of reacting to bereavement; from denial, anger, and questioning to sorrow and acceptance. Be there for them emotionally and physically, and hold them often to reassure them of your love.
- Death and Loss – Keep Kids Healthy
- Talking to Children About Death – Netdoctor