When somebody in your child’s life dies, you may struggle to find the words that will both comfort and educate your little one. As heartbroken as you may be, the lesson you teach your child following the passing away of a loved one is significant. There are a few things you can do to help move this discussion along.
The first step before establishing this conversation is to consider the age and emotional state of the child, finding ways to put death in his or her terms. Children as young as preschool aged will have heard about death on television, in fairy tales and possibly overhearing other conversations. The point here is that children are more aware than they are often given credit for. Children in their preschool years are much more likely to think about the concrete physical details of the death, including where the deceased person went. Older children are more likely to consider their own mortality.
Even though you may not have all the answers, it is important that you encourage your child to ask questions. Some children may have trouble understanding that death is permanent. A child’s view of the world tends to be more literal than that of an adult. This means that you must avoid saying anything that might confuse them. Encouraging questions will prevent this.
Avoid putting up common barriers to communication. One of the biggest barriers is avoidance, meaning that parents will often skirt around the topic of death and shut down any related conversation. Grieving in front of your child is actually quite healthy.
Use physical items as a memory of the deceased. A picture or a gift from the deceased may help your child grieve. Plus, he will have something to remember this loved one by in the future.
Do not be surprised if you get no reaction at all. Whether your child goes back to playing with toys as if nothing happened or she wants to cry, you must acknowledge that her feelings are valid. Everybody reacts to tragedy differently, and you may even see the reaction pop up later.
This is a conversation most parents fear, and for good reason. Death is an intimidating topic, but that does not mean you cannot have an open and honest discussion with your child, whether he or she is in preschool or in high school.