With millions of deaths happening every year, it’s highly likely that those deaths directly impact a child or children.
Talking with your kids about death and dying can be a complex territory. You’re not sure how they react, you’re probably not sure what to say, and sometimes it’s hard to put into words how you’re feeling as well.
Death is confusing for children of all ages, and the subject should not be taken lightly. If you’re wrestling with the idea of how to talk to kids about death, keep reading for some insight.
Table of Contents
- 5 Stages of Grief
- 9 Suggestions For Talking to Your Kids About Death
- Talking to Children About Death
5 Stages of Grief
Before you start a conversation with your children about death, it helps to understand the five stages of grief and how they might come into play. All of these emotions are completely normal and may manifest themselves in a variety of forms.
No matter how death happens, it can come as a shock. Denial is the first stage of grief and may look different from child to child.
Anger is the second stage of grief. Allow your child to feel angry; that death is unfair, anger towards the person who died, parents, and others.
Bargaining means that one person will claim to do anything to bring back the deceased. It’s a way of trying to regain the normal, and often comes from a sense of feeling guilty about the death.
Expressing extreme sadness about the person’s death feels like it may never end. This stage, like all stages, should be met with compassion and understanding.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that the sad feelings go away and you suddenly become ok with death. It means that you understand that death is permanent and you accept it.
9 Suggestions For Talking to Your Kids About Death
Death is never an easy issue to approach, and it can be hard to even know where to start. Here are some tips to help guide you in the process.
1. Always Tell The Truth
Some parents might be tempted to tell their children that a pet or relative is sleeping or another idea about where the loved one went.
While this might seem like it’s protecting the child, it’s doing the opposite. Death will impact their lives, and they need to learn how to properly mourn and that it’s ok to do so.
2. Allow For Emotions
When your child learns about death, they might cry or show a range of emotions. Tell them crying is ok, and so are any other feelings they might be possessing. Encourage talking about them and be a safe place for your children to express how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking.
3. Use Concrete Language
Children have difficulty comprehending abstract terms. Using language like, “passed away” or “put to sleep” might convey messages that the person who died is coming back.
Use works that straightforward and simple so that the child can understand. Phrases like, “Grandpa died last night” are forward and allow the child to process the details. They need to understand that the person is not coming back.
4. Talk About Funeral And Other Events
Each family will hold memorial services or events surrounding the death related to their beliefs and family customs.
If your child has never been to a funeral, or any of these events, discuss what they might see and expect, such as a body in a coffin, people crying, and so forth.
Perhaps the person understood the benefits of cremation and wanted to be cremated. If the person’s wishes were to be cremated, discuss with your children what they might see.
5. Give Comfort
There’s going to be an abundance of different feelings related to the five stages of grief from your child. Ensure the children that you’re there to listen and provide comfort in any way you can.
6. Expect Unexplained And Unexpected Moments of Grief
Grief impacts everyone differently. Months or even years after the person has died, grief has a way of resurfacing, especially for children.
Be aware that this might happen to your child and it could come as a surprise to both of you.
7. Let Them See You Cry
For some parents, they might think that shielding their emotions and sadness from their children is another way to protect them.
Children need to see parents grieving as well. As parents deal with their feelings about death, it shows children that it’s ok to be experiencing these feelings. Be sure to express to your child why you’re crying.
8. Care For Yourself
When a loved one dies, there are many responsibilities that adults may need to take on, such as funeral planning, sorting through belongings, and dealing with the business of death. It can be taxing.
Don’t forget to care for yourself during this process. You’re dealing with your grief and taking on many tasks, and frustration can mount if you don’t take time to manage your grief.
9. Seek Professional Help
Sometimes the grief may be overwhelming for the child and the parent is unprepared to deal with the complexities it brings.
If grief seems to be interfering with your child’s ability to function at home, school, or within other activities, consider turning to a therapist or counselor to help you and your child walk through the grief together.
Talking to Children About Death
When talking to your kids about death, it’s best to prepare, be as honest as you can, and be there for them when they need to talk. Death is a big event and a permanent one, and it’s hard for children to process. Patience and preparation are key.
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