Death is one of those topics that nobody enjoys talking about despite it being an inevitable aspect of life. Unfortunately, it is not a conversation that can be avoided forever, due to the harsh realities of life. It is difficult enough to discuss death with other adults, but things become even more complicated when dealing with children.
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Many parents struggle with how to even approach the subject in a sensitive manner when the child isn’t familiar with the concept.
While it might be tempting to try to spare your child from such a somber topic by trying to sugarcoat it, this can have a negative impact on the child. At best it will be even more confusing to them and just make it harder to try to explain the truth to them later.
At worse, they might hear the truth from someone else by accident and become scared or angry. Of course, children are different in how sensitive and mature they are even at the same age, which complicates things even further. The relationship that the child had with the deceased, if applicable, is another aspect that can make it hard to discuss. Keep the following advice in mind when talking to your kids about death to ensure that there can be an open and honest understanding.
You Don’t Have To Have All The Answers
As a parent it is natural that you want to be able to answer all the questions asked by your children, but this doesn’t apply when there simply isn’t an answer. Although this feels uncomfortable because we know children expect us to have all the answers, it doesn’t mean that you cannot comfort or reassure your child. Instead of coming up with an explanation that is false, be honest with your kids if you want to keep their trust.
Avoidance Is Not The Answer
Avoiding your kid’s questions about death is only a short-term solution and not a very good one at that. Instead, try to be simple and straightforward when dealing with their questions. When they see dead animals, birds or insects in particular, it can be a good opportunity to discuss the topic of death without the emotional involvement. Remember, even if the child asks questions that sound morbid, it is their way of learning about the subject of death, so don’t make them feel embarrassed or guilty when answering. Even if you don’t intend it in such a manner, avoiding the subject of death can make it seem taboo to your child.
By answering their questions truthfully you can help them to better understand what death is. This doesn’t mean that you should provide the child with more information than they are able to handle for their age. Sometimes it is enough to only tell them as much as they ask to know.
Don’t Be Afraid To Show Your Emotions
If you have not had the chance to talk to your child about death before losing a loved one or someone close to the family it can be extra hard to deal with the topic. In such a case it is important that you take care of your own grief so that you can help your kids process the experience better. In cases where your feelings are still very raw it might be better to talk to other adults first who can help you to process these feelings before discussing it with children.
Don’t try to hide your emotions from your child, though, as they also need to learn that it is natural to experience such difficult feelings. This way they will understand that expressing feelings or shedding tears is not a sign of weakness.
Avoid Confusing Euphemisms
Instead of using euphemisms when describing death, stick to answers that are straightforward. Don’t use terms such as “sleeping” or “taken from us” when talking about the subject, as these terms will only cause further confusion for the child. Describing death as “going to sleep forever” can also cause fear and anxiety for the child, as they will associate going to sleep with never waking up. Instead, explain to the child that living things all die eventually and that there is no coming back unlike the plots in movies or fairy tales.
It is also better to avoid describing the deceased as being in a better place as children will be offended that a place without them is better for a loved one. Even something as simple as saying the deceased has “gone to be with the angels” can make it sound like it was a choice to abandon them.
Be Available To Listen And Comfort
If a child’s first experience with death occurs when a family member or loved one passes away it is important to be there for them. Remember that children all react differently to this type of situation, so don’t be surprised if the child doesn’t cry or show their emotions. Answer the questions that they might have, but also make sure that you are there to simply listen to them and provide reassurances or comfort while they deal with the situation.
It is important for the child to know that you are interested in what their thoughts or feelings about the situation are. Children sometimes have unrealistic fears about death and dying if they are not very familiar with the subject, so by being available for comfort you can help them to put these into perspective. It also helps to build trust and will let the child know that you care about their concerns.
Losing a close family member can cause a child to feel angry or guilty, so when talking to them, make sure that they know you will always continue to love and care for them.
Memories Are Important
It is important that children understand that death is final and there is no coming back, but this doesn’t mean they cannot hold onto the good memories about the deceased. Helping a child to remember the good times they had with a lost loved one can help them with the grieving process. It takes patience, as the child will have to get used to the absence of someone in their life.
Don’t Hesitate To Make Use Of Professional Help
When it comes to grief there is no knowing how or when it will affect you or your children, so don’t feel ashamed if you want to seek professional help. Because grief is an ongoing process it can take hold before, during or even long after the death of a loved one, but luckily there are professionals who can help. Talking about death to your kids is not an easy milestone, but it is an important one that will have to be reached at some point in their life.
Discussing this difficult topic when it comes up, instead of shying away, can prevent it from coming out of the blue to your child in the event that a loved one dies.