Death is a very sensitive topic and will affect your family at some point, and it’s a subject that few parents know how to talk about with their children.
When do you know that you’ve explained too much?
When do you know that you’ve answered too little?
A lot of parents are always looking for advice on how to talk about death with their little ones – especially after the passing of a loved one.
Even if a family has not experienced loss, the presence of ghosts, tombstones, and specters during Halloween celebrations can often trigger a child’s curiosity for the afterlife.
With that said, here’s how you can talk about loss with your child.
Make sure your answers are fit for your child’s age and maturity.
As a parent, the most important thing to do when you’re having these conversations is to consider your child’s age and developmental level.
For example, children under the age of three won’t be able to grasp the concept of the finality of death – but it’s still appropriate to give them an explanation. A good explanation that you can give your three year old child would be something like this:
“After the funeral, you won’t be able to talk to the person again.”
However, for older children over the age of 10, parents can engage in a more in-depth conversation about the causes and meaning of death as part of the life cycle and tie it in with existing cultural beliefs.
On the question of why someone died, simply reassure your child that he or she doesn’t need to worry about death now and that it’s part of the life cycle. The goal here is to keep your children focused on the better things in life.
Assure them that grief and sadness are normal experiences
It’s important to explain the normality of the experience of grief, and you want to assure your kid that it’s okay to feel sad, cry, or miss the person who died.
Give your child the assurance that the feelings of sadness will get better. One strategy that I’ve learned to help young children process their feelings of grief is to encourage them to draw pictures of a special time they remember that they spent with the loved one who passed away or writing a letter to that person about how much they’re missed.
Consider your religious beliefs before discussing the afterlife
Religious beliefs play an important role in helping you explain death, or the concept of it, to a child. If you and your spouse come from different traditions, it’s best to agree on a message that you can give to your children to avoid confusing them.
If you come from a religious family, then you may want to use relevant children’s books or religious texts to ease the process. You can tell your children that they’ll see their loved ones in another life if it’s part of your religious belief and that it provides you with a sense of comfort or a purpose of living.
If you find it difficult to ease the message of your belief in, then it’s just best to leave it as it is for now with a simple message like:
“We will miss them, but their memories will always stay in our hearts”.
Discussions of traumatic death should be handled with care.
A traumatic loss offers a different grieving experience than a loss as a result of natural causes. In most cases, children who deal with traumatic loss often find themselves asking the question what they could’ve done to prevent the death.
In the event of traumatic loss, you have to ensure your child that the loved one’s death was not his or her fault.
Books about grief can also be helpful too. I recommend books like Always and Forever, by Alan Durant; Someone Special Died, by Joanne Prestine; and Where Do People Go When They Die, by Mindy Avra Portnoy.
Parents should continue to help their children cope and deal with the experience of loss, traumatic or not. It’s a parent’s responsibility to remind the child that they are loved and safe as they go through the grieving process.