Preparing them and talking with them about what is to come is one of the best things a parent can do for their child. The helpful tips outlined below will help you approach the topic with your children, without making it too scary or uncomfortable. We have listed the dos and don’ts when discussing death with a young person. We hope that this information can be helpful and provide guidance to those who are grieving the death of someone near and dear to them.
Creating a healthy understanding of death and grief for your child is definitely a challenge for parents. Helping them comprehend what this life changing event actually means to their life can be hard, especially for children that are very young. A child’s capacity to understand death and the parents approach to discussing it will vary according to the child’s age. Words can be confusing, so make sure to choose them well and explain death in a way your child will understand.
• Be honest with kids and encourage questions.
• Create an atmosphere of comfort and openness, and send the message that there’s no one right or wrong way to feel.
• Help them understand that each person grieves in their own way and does at their own pace. There is comfort in them knowing they are not different or out of the ordinary for the way they grieve.
• Read books on aging and death with your child. The Fall of Freddie the Leaf is a great example of a book that discusses dying and can be read to children of all ages.
• If they ask, be ready to tell to your child who would care for him/her if you should die. Preparing them for the what if is much easier while you are alive than if you are gone.
• Teach them it is OK to cry. An adult’s expression of sadness teaches a child it is OK to grieve and that tears and sadness are appropriate.
• Children tend to take what we say literally- be careful when describing death, so they don’t relate what you say to their own life and get frightened. Someone once described death as “going to sleep”; the child may be afraid to close their eyes, fearing they may die too.
• Don’t promise your children you will be around for a long time. The timing of everyone’s passing is unknown.
• Pointing out or singling out a grieving child to set him/her apart from peers needs to be avoided. Peer support may be the child’s most valuable lifeline in difficult times.
• Refrain from assuming you know how the grieving child will feel or what they understand. Being there and listening to the child provides much support in a time of grief.
If you or someone you know is struggling with talking to their children about death, we are here to help start up those conversations. We encourage you to utilize us a resource. We also can provide lists of books and articles to read and help assist parents in talking about death with their children.