Many of us hesitate to talk about death, particularly with youngsters. But death is an inescapable fact of life. We must deal with it, and so must our children. If we are to help them, we must let them know it’s okay to talk about it. By talking to our children about death, we may discover what they know and do not know; if they have misconceptions, fears, or worries. What and when you decide to tell them, you must understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all way to talk to children about death. It will depend on a number of things, like their ages and experiences in life, as well as their relationship with the deceased. Discussions on death can start in a number of ways, from information on the news to the passing of a member of the family.
Children are extremely curious and impressionable. They learn a lot simply by observing. They may already have picked up on death from TV and radio, to their basic surroundings. They hear about it in children’s stories, see it in video games and have probably encountered a dead animal at least once. It is normal for a child to be curious about death, even if they have not yet suffered any loss.
Despite this, there are aspects of death that children still won’t be able to grasp fully. If parents decide to talk to their child about death, they will be able to prepare their children for any emotional distress it may cause and this might even soften the blow.
Adults tend to bottle up and hide their emotions from children in the hope that they will not notice, but the opposite is often true. When we avoid talking about something upsetting, children hesitate to bring up the subject or ask any questions.They may assume that bringing it up will cause even more anguish. This way, you may end up making them worry even more than they have to.
Grieving is an important part of healing, for both children and adults. Its okay if your children see you crying. It proves that you also cry when sad and that its perfectly okay. Don’t frighten your child with excessive grief, but don’t make the subject off-limits, Bombarding your child with unwanted information can cause them even more distress.
Most parents use simple euphemisms such as “sleeping” and “going away to a better place.” These words may confuse your child even more. In some cases some children were too terrified to go to sleep as they thought they would not wake up again. Honesty is very important as it makes it easier to communicate with your child as they will pick up on it and appreciate the openness. State the reasons for the death as simply as possible. If the deceased was unwell before passing away, explain to them that certain illnesses are more serious than the usual flu or cold.
If it is a pet that has died, do not downplay the death. This usually is a child’s first brush with death on a personal level. They may feel personally responsible especially if they were in charge of taking care of it. Avoid saying “don’t feel bad” as this shows the child that emotion is inappropriate. Offer lots of sympathy instead and do not rush their grieving process. Even if it may seem like a good idea to replace the pet with a new one, your child must be given time to understand the gravity of his or her loss.
It is healthy to provide your child with an outlet after the death of a loved one. Arts and crafts, writing, photography, and any other activity children enjoy can help them honour and remember the departed.
Children may ask peculiar questions once faced with loss. Be prepared for a variety of questions. You may not be able to answer them all, and that’s okay. As I mentioned earlier honesty with your child is imperative.
As a parent, you are a key factor in how your child will grow up and relate with the world. Your feelings and attitudes about death are conveyed to the child, whether you camouflage your experience or not. How you talk about and share your experience with the child may be what he/she remembers most.
(Image courtesy: thegospelcoalition.org)