Explaining the death of a loved one, friend or a family pet to a child is not always easy. We instinctively want to protect our children from lifes harsh realities. If we are not completely honest however, in how we communicate about death to a child, then it will affect how they grieve and deal with death in the future.
Of course any discussion involving death must always be relevant to the age of the child. It is important to realise that children need to grieve and talk about their feelings. These emotions and feelings need to be validated by their parents as being perfectly normal and necessary. I have listed some suggestions on how to explain death or dying to children:
• Make sure that you have come to terms with your own grief, then you can help your child to understand their feelings.
• If there are times when you feel sad and need to cry, let your child know why and that it is perfectly normal to grieve in this way. Explaining grief in this way will make it easier for the child to understand and talk about their own feelings.
• Acknowledge how your children feel about death. Making death a normal part of life will enable them to move on after the grieving process.
• Do not use language that may cause confusion or fear. Do not be vague i.e., “Grandad went away”. If children are not told the truth they will make up their own version of the truth. This may cause more harm and upset. Like all communication with your children – be honest.
• Be empathetic and step into your children’s shoes. A child’s perspective will be very far removed from an adult’s, so patience and understanding at this time is a must.
• Create special ways for your child to remember. Looking at old photographs, laughing at the funny times will all help with the feelings of loss.
Of course, the passing of time to an adult is completely different to a child. You might think that they have coped very well and are getting on with their busy hectic lives. This is very normal and exactly as it should be. Do be prepared however, for those little moments when they suddenly remember, and want to relive a special time. Hold them close and talk about it together, knowing that the loved one who has passed lives on in our memories kept safe in our hearts.