Let’s face it explaining death to a child can be difficult especially when it’s unexpected. Death is a cycle of life that everyone must go through as well as being born. One thing I’m sure that parents are concerned about is how to handle this topic when it comes to children.
Just recently I had a few deaths in the family. One of those where my nephews grandfather. He was sick for a while with cancer he had some struggles towards the end as I’m sure most cancer patients do. Most times cancer patients have end-of-life care to help the patient and family deal with a dying loved one diagnosed with cancer. Sometimes children may not understand this process. Therefore parents, guardians, and loved ones are left with the daunting task of explaining to children that a loved one has passed on. What do you do when this task is left up to you. According to KidsHealth from Nemours here are some things parents can do:
- When explaining to children, don’t come to them at a time where you are in a heightened emotional state, crying, and your not together yourself. You will just create an atmosphere of confusion, especially if you trying to relay information. Tell your child that you have something to talk to them about. Explain to them that the person or pet has died. Then give your child time to process what you just said.
- Listen to your child and validate any thoughts or feelings. How do you do that ? You say “okay” , “uh-huh”, “ I see” while the child is speaking. Your body language says a lot, so show that you are listening. Don’t go making phone calls telling family members or family about the loss of person or pet. Stay focused on the child, you have time for that later after you finish that conversation with your child.
- Stay present! Just don’t drop the emotional bomb on them and walk away. Ask your child how are they feeling, sit with them, let them know you got them.
- If you are attending a funeral, memorial or religious service talk to them about what to expect. Talk about the amount of people that will be there and that people may ask often how the child is feeling. Offer a few generic responses that your child can say, if they have difficulty responding.
I remember when I was child I would always get nervous at funerals because everyone was so serious. I would often laugh because I was nervous. I would always get a side eye from my mom or a stern look from some older person. However that is how I dealt with it in my own way.
Give your child space to deal with death in their own way. Going back to what I mentioned earlier about my nephew losing his grandfather. I also explain to my son about the grandfather dying. My son had a hard time dealing with it because he just saw the individual 3 weeks prior. My son didn’t understand if he just saw the person how could he be dead. This affected my son, even though he never had a relationship with this person, except for seeing him in the summertime.
However after telling my son about this person dying he immediately went to his room and started to cry. His response was unexpected but I gave him time to sit in his room by himself for a few minutes and then I went in to find out how he was doing. I listened to what he had to say because he was asking why the individual had to die. I explain to my son that the individual was sick for a while and that it was his time to leave this place. I also used the opportunity to explain that death is what everyone will go through, even me his mom. Now this was not my first conversation about death with my son because he is aware.
My son was concerned about his cousin and how he was reacting to the death of his grandfather. So you never know how children will react to someone dying. However, I ask us as parents to have a conversation with your children and be proactive, and don’t wait until someone that’s close to your child or child’s pet dies. Explain to them about things being born and things dying. I guess the best example to use is our pets especially goldfish. Some don’t have a long life expectancy and that’s a good opportunity to explain death. This puts me in the mindset of my favorite childhood programs that I would watch, it showed how the parents reacted to pets dying or loved one dying in the home.
Some were comical and some were not.
Well I hope that this give some insight on how to explain to your child about death. If your child is having a really tough time dealing with grief and you feel that your child is not pulling through emotionally definitely seek the advice of a trained professional such as a therapist. You don’t want grief to manifest into something else that you’re not trained to handle.