Parenting is tough. All you want to do is keep your children happy and safe, but sometimes you have to help them understand difficult concepts that might lead to unhappiness. Discussing death isn’t something that any parent looks forward to, but it’s an inevitable part of life that we all have to face at some time or another.
The death of someone in a family can be a very hard experience for anyone – not just children. However, younger members in the family might find that they struggle to understand the concept of death when they are first exposed to it.
How to speak to children about death
A child’s reaction to a death in the family will likely depend on their stage of development and age. No two children are likely to react in the same way, and some children will appear to cope better with the concept than adults. This is often because children have a way of living in the moment. While it’s not always easy to tell children about death – particularly when they are very young – it’s important for you to be the person who broaches the subject with your youngsters. A parent can offer support unlike anything that can be accessed anywhere else, and in this confusing world, a mother or father can give a child the reassurance they need when facing the concept of mortality.
The importance of being honest
While it might seem simpler to suggest that someone has gone “elsewhere”, it’s important to explain death in a way that is honest, clear, and concise, without being frightening. A lot of parents are convinced that it’s best to let children believe that things will go back to normal soon – but this can lead to a state of confusion in a child’s life that prevents them from moving on with existence as normal.
When you’re talking to your child, try to make them feel as comfortable as possible, and let them know that you’re there for them with hugs, hand-holding, and gentle gestures. Speak in a gentle tone, and use words that you know your children will understand. Simple explanations are key here, and if you can use examples – such as the time the goldfish died – you might find that they have an easier time understanding what you’re saying. You might have to repeat information a few times, but be patient – and give your child plenty of time to absorb the information you give.
Be available to answer questions
Think back to your first experience with death. The chances are you had a lot of questions that you wanted your parents to answer. The same thing will be true of your child. Let them ask their questions, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t answer all of them. Death is a complicated thing, and you don’t have all the answers. The important thing is to let them know that you’re there for them.
Sometimes, it can be helpful to even show your youngster that you’re also struggling, and share your feelings with them – or how you feel that you cope best. Children learn a lot from their parents, and you might find that you both find a way to support each other through a difficult time.
Making decisions about the funeral
A funeral can be a wonderful source of closure for you and your child. It allows your child to see how other people grieve and say their final farewells. Many funeral services are child-friendly, and could be the perfect place to help your child get support from other members of the family.
Of course, if your child is terrified by the idea of a funeral or doesn’t want to go, then you shouldn’t try to force them. Simply impress upon them the importance of saying goodbye, and let them know that they might regret their decision in the future.
Dealing with death
Dealing with death is a difficult experience for people of any age, but for children, it can be particularly confusing. When we’re young, it’s hard to understand how one person could be a part of life one day, and then gone the next.
While you might not be able to prepare your child for every death that occurs in your family, you will be able to offer a source of support and guidance to them during those difficult times, and even help them to express their emotions in a healthy way.