Talking With Your Child About Death
As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth . . . For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.
Psalms 103:15, 15
Helpful Books On Death and Grieving
How do you talk about death with a child?
Death is part of life and we will all have to deal with the passing of a loved one at some point in time. Most likely, a child will experience the loss differently from the adults in his life.
If you have ever lost someone or even a pet as a child, you can grasp at how the death affected you. None of us are ever truly prepared for death because it comes suddenly and without warning. For a child, this is much more difficult to handle.
Parents may be confused with the sporadic actions of a child in the period after a death. One moment they may be playing happily with toys and the next they are sobbing uncontrollably. Children experience grief in spurts and thus do not truly convey by observation what they are internalizing about death.
So where and when do you start to discuss death with a child?
A Pet's Death Helps Understand The Process
Cast Your Vote
Have you ever had to discuss death with your child?
Understanding the Stages of Grief
Grief is a journey, often perilous, and without clear direction. Molly Fumia
Recently, the stages of grief have been redefined and condensed to three items. They are as follows:
- Shock: A numbness, disbelief regarding the loss. A feeling of disorganization may transpire or a foggy mind set similar to sleepwalking may overcome the person.
- Suffering: Pain is very prevalent and encompasses the individual. There may be a loss os appetite, chest pains may occur, a lethargic feeling and insomnia may emerge as well.
- Recovery: This usually occurs one year after the death, but it may take longer with some persons. it is a slow recovery and cannot be hastened. The person will reconnect to life's interests and may even have a new outlook on life.
Some of the stages may be evident, but in most cases the child will not display any signs as to where they are in the process. Children need help in externalizing their feelings regarding death. Signs that may indicate the child is grieving are:
- Anger (may be displaced)
- Loss of appetite
- Isolation from others
When I was teaching a four year old pre-school class, a boy who I will call Gavin to protect his identity, was aloof from the other children. He never smiled and would always be on the outskirts of any acitivity. After awhile the other children ignored his presence and he became invisible to them.
I talked with his parents about Gavin's habits at home and they mentioned that he talked with them and his little sister, but spent most of his time playing alone. They also told me that his grandmother, who was a real part of his life, had recently died. We discussed how we could help Gavin to externalize his feelings to begin the journey to recovery. Our solution was to give him the vocabulary he needed to express himself and to provide a reason for him to look forward to coming to school.
We created some index cards with faces showing different emotions such as anger, mad, happy. These he would keep with him to answer questions asked by his parents on how he was feeling that day. After a few days, he was able to vocalize his feelings and this provided the family an opportunity to help him heal.
Additionally, his parents said he loved animals so they bought some hermit crabs for the classroom. Gavin along with his classmates, looked forward to helping me feed them each morning. The crabs were fasciinating to Gavin and the children, and they worked together on a project about the habitat of these creatures. Over the next few weeks, we all began to see a difference in him. The first day he smiled at me, I cried. He was recovering!
Vocabulary That Helps Express Feelings About Death
The Grieving Process
Hub Resources On Raising A Child
- The Gift of a Child's Drawing
Children's drawings are special gifts that often reveal a child's character. A child's art can express his thoughts about life and his emotions.
- What Makes A Child Special?
Every child has unique character traits that make him or her a special person. Parents can work with children to help them establish a good sense of themselves through every day circumstances.
- Letters To My Grandchild
Grandparents can help mentor grandchildren through letters. It is a communication tool that helps build a bond of trust and bridges a relationship through the years.
The Road to Recovery
In order to understand death, we must define love as part of the process. It is because we love someone (or a pet) so much that the loss is great. Children may even believe that the person died because they did not love them enough. Parents can reassure them that this is not true and let them know that it was in no way their fault the death occurred. Talk about the many good times they had with the person and how much the person loved them in return. If you are people of faith, spiritual counseling will help to reinforce the values of love, life and eternal joy.
It is always good to remember a person through the places and activities they used to enjoy. Perhaps they loved to go to the beach, fish, play checkers, etc., and this is where you can start a good conversation about how much it meant to their loved one. It may be hard at first because of the memories, so discussions on how they feel about it must be covered as well.
Lastly, some children may need additional therapy to cope with life again. There are some wonderful programs, such as hospice, that offer classes to families in dealing with death. Often, the child may be enrolled in an art or music therapy class so that they can express their emotions through this method.
When it comes to death, grieving is a journey and process and parents should keep in mind that it may be a slow recovery. But with consistent love and understanding, a child will reconnect to life and may even develop a new appreciation for it.