Most people find the topic of death very difficult to talk about, and it grows even more challenging when children are involved. Some children may not fully grasp the concept of death, while others may find it downright frightening. Here is some advice on honestly talking to children about death of a loved one while minimizing emotional trauma.
Why Talking To Children About Death Is Important
When someone you are close to dies, you will need to have some difficult conversations with your children. It is important to be honest with them, especially if they see you upset, as being open about your feelings can help them learn how to mourn.
Things Not To Do When Talking To Children About Death
Your children will likely have questions when a loved one passes away, and the best way of helping them is by answering those questions in a straightforward manner. You will want to be honest and specific to some extent, but keep in mind that children tend to take things more literally than adults.
What you should do and say in this situation is very personal and will depend on the age and personality of the children involved, but there are a few things you should not do when talking to children about death.
Don’t Hide Your Emotions
It is only natural for parents to want to protect their children from witnessing and experiencing negative emotions, but it is important not to hide your grief from your child. In fact, seeing you grieve shows your children that it is healthy and normal to feel sad and cry following such a major loss.
You should not use euphemisms when discussing what happened. Although you may wish to soften the blow for your children, being indirect may confuse them or even frighten them. Terms like “passed away”, “went on a long journey” or even “put the dog to sleep” can confuse children and prevent them from grasping what has happened. The last phrase is particularly problematic as children may think that they, too, might never wake up after going to sleep at night.
Don’t Change The Subject When Your Child Comes Into The Room
It may be tempting to avoid upsetting topics when your children are around, but it is important not to change the subject if you are discussing death and your child enters the room. This makes the topic of death seem taboo and makes it harder for them to come to terms with it. While you may want to be careful about how many details you provide when your children are around, avoiding the topic entirely could do more harm than good.
Although you will likely need to sit down and have a discussion with them about what has happened, keep in mind that children typically benefit more when they ask adults questions rather than receiving a lecture, so make sure your child feels comfortable coming to you with their concerns.
Avoid sitting your children down for a big conversation, overwhelming them with details and expecting them to internalize everything. Explain the situation clearly, but do not be surprised if they ask questions later that demonstrate they have not grasped the permanence of the situation.
Don’t Change Your Daily Routine
When a loved one has just died, you may find it difficult to go to work or even carry out basic daily tasks. However, routines and consistency are very comforting to children, so it is important to try to maintain your daily routine as much as possible. Do your best to ensure that your children can continue with their typical schedule, including school, extracurricular events and social meetings to help maintain a sense of normalcy. Children need to be reminded that there are many people in their lives and that they will always be cared for.
Don’t Put A Time Limit On Your Child’s Grief
You should not put a time limit on your child’s grief. Every person grieves in their own way, and it takes time to adjust to a new normal without your loved one. Allow your child to grieve as much as necessary, and do not be afraid to reach out to their teacher, doctor or your religious community if you need additional support.
If your child’s grief is overwhelming, consider getting professional help from a mental health therapist with training in bereavement.
Don’t Avoid Connecting With Your Child
Even if you feel uncomfortable or do not know what to say, you should not avoid connecting with your child. Even hugging or sitting together can provide significant comfort to your child during this time.
Harbor Light Hospice Is Here To Help With Talking To Children About Death
Hospices can serve as a valuable resource for people of all ages who are dealing with grief. If you need help navigating the grieving process for children, get in touch with the hospice professionals at Harbor Light Hospice to help your family get through this difficult time.