Death can be difficult to talk about, and these conversations can be even more challenging when children are involved. Whether the death in question was sudden, accidental, expected or prolonged, finding the right balance between being honest with your child and avoiding upsetting them can be tricky. Here are some tips for talking to children about death.
Things To Do When Talking To Children About Death
When you are talking to your children about death, here is what you should keep in mind.
Tell The Truth
As tempting as it may be to shield your child from unpleasant news, it is important to be honest about what happened right away. Telling the truth helps to explain why you seem upset and may be crying, and being open about your emotions can help your child learn how to mourn. By letting them see your grief instead of hiding it, you can show them that crying and feeling sad after a significant loss is normal and healthy.
Be Prepared For Different Reactions
Everyone reacts to death differently, and this is especially true when it comes to children. You can expect them to be upset about what happened, but they might also be angry about the loss. Regardless of how they react, it is important to simply accept their emotional reactions in the moment. If necessary, you can revisit the topic later after your child has had time to process everything.
Share Information In Doses
A good way to avoid overwhelming your child is by sharing information in small pieces at a time. This allows you to get a feel for how much they can handle, and any questions they ask along the way can help guide you in determining what information to share moving forward.
Be Comfortable Saying You Don’t Know
Parents are used to having all (or most) of the answers their children ask for, but this is one case where it is okay to admit you don’t know something, even if you do know but feel the details may be too much for them to handle. Whether they’re asking why their beloved dog ran into the street before it got hit by a car or how their grandfather died, it is okay to tell them you don’t have the answers.
Let Your Child Grieve In Their Own Way
If your child seems comfortable ruminating in silence about what happened, don’t pressure them to talk about it. They might want to isolate themselves and spend some time alone thinking, and that is perfectly fine. If your child does not seem very affected by the news, that is okay, too; there really is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Prepare Your Child For The Funeral
If your child will be visiting the funeral home or attending the funeral service, it is a good idea to prepare them for the event as much as possible. Let them know what they can expect to see and who will be in attendance. It is also helpful to explain to them how the people there might be feeling and what they will be doing. You may need to mention where the body will be and what it might look like. If you are distraught over the death, bring someone with you who can tend to them at the funeral.
Let Your Child Participate However Much They Want
Consider allowing your child to participate in certain rituals to give them a better sense of control over the loss. Perhaps you can let them help you pick photos for the memorial or a favorite song.
Although people sometimes hesitate to talk about someone who has died because they worry it will be painful, studies have shown that the pain of reliving past memories and sharing stories about a person who has passed away can help with healing and provide closure.
Make Sure To Talk Often And Check In
Do not be surprised if the topic of your loved one’s death comes up repeatedly in the days, weeks or even months afterward. Be prepared to talk as much as your child wants, and check-in from time to time if they don’t bring it up to open the conversation and see how they are coping with the loss.
Hospice Care Is Here To Help When It Comes To Talking To Children About Death
It is also important to remember to take care of yourself during this time. Although a death can be absolutely devastating, keep in mind that your children are observing and learning from you, so you will want to be a role model for self-care during this period.
If you have lost a loved one, hospice care can help. The experienced and helpful team at Harbor Light Hospice provides support to family members during the bereavement process through offerings such as group therapy, art therapy and pet therapy. They can also offer grief support to children and teenagers. These services are offered for free, even if your loved one was not under their care. Reach out to Harbor Light Hospice to learn more.