Children and Death
Talking about and discussing death with children can be a tricky subject depending on the child’s age, level of maturity, understanding of death, circumstances around the death, and relationship to the deceased. At times, adults can find themselves at a loss on what to tell children. This can lead to adults avoiding children’s questions in effort to not say the “wrong thing”.
12 Important Tips:
1. Let them lead the way – Let children ask the questions. They have certain questions and curiosities and will ask you directly what is on their minds. This prevents you from giving too much or unnecessary information.
2. Ask them – about their understanding of what happened, what death means to them, etc.
3. If you don’t know you don’t know – it is ok to say, “I don’t know,” or if you don’t know how to answer a question in the moment saying something like, “I am not sure about that. Let me get back to you.”
4. Developmental appropriateness is important – speak to children in a way and language they understand. Generally speaking children under the age of 5 can not grasp the finality of death.
5. Be careful what you say – when children are listening; they may take something you said and interpret it in a way that it wasn’t intended.
6. Don’t use – words or phrases like – “Grandma is sleeping,” or “We lost Cousin Joey.”
7. Normalizing – it is important to normalize and acknowledge the various feelings children have.
8.Don’t be so quick – to shut down your own feelings when children are present. Showing your own feelings normalizes their experience and can create an opening to talk about the person that died.
9.Talk, talk and talk some more – choose to have free and open conversations about the deceased.
10.Consistency & routine – are important to children. Maintaining similar routines prior to the death gives children a sense of security.
11. Play & physical activity – are helpful to children. They express themselves through play and other mediums. Physical activity allows children to release excess energy and emotions associated with a death.
12. Material things – don’t be so hasty to throw away or get rid of things that remind children of the deceased. They may find comfort in sleeping with an article of clothing the deceased wore or having a token of something that the child and deceased shared as “special”.