One of the hardest jobs parents face in raising a child is explaining to them the concept of death, particularly as it relates to discussing the death of a loved one. Children often grow attached to grandparents and other elderly family members, and coping with a death can be especially difficult for children. Talking to children about death can be a touchy subject, but putting it in a manner they understand is helpful.
When a death occurs, they are often the ones to take it the hardest, although their grief will likely look different than that of adults. It is important for parents and others who are close to the child to know how to help them through the difficult time by discussing the situation in an honest and appropriate manner.
How to Talk to Children About Death
Addressing the topic of aging and death is tricky, especially when discussing it with a child who may not fully comprehend the situation. However, it is essential to confront the situation directly. This helps the child process their feelings about the death of their loved one, deal with their fears and concerns and develop an appropriate and healthy reaction towards death that carries into their adult years.
There are certain things adults can do to make the process easier and ensure it is handled correctly. The following are five useful tips on talking to children about death, and helpful ways to process grief.
Prepare Ahead of Time
Preparation is essential to ensure you are in the proper state of mind before you begin discussing death with your child. Before you can initiate the conversation, you must be stable emotionally and address your own feelings and beliefs.
When preparing, you should also consider the environment in which you plan to have the discussion about death. It is best to choose a place that is comfortable for both you and your child, such as the living room or in their bedroom before or after storytime.
Adults should also consider the time as well. While it is important not to wait too long, ensuring you have a handle over your emotions before the discussion is often helpful.
Understand the Child
Every child is unique, and each child has their own way of learning about death. Most children experience a dead bird, squirrel, etc., and they slowly come to terms with the realities of death.
However, a traumatic and sudden loss of a loved one can make the learning process more complicated. Parents might expect their child to react in a way that they do not, which makes the situation more tricky. It is important to understand your child and their behavioral tendencies when deciding the best way to talk to them about death.
Use Proper Communication Techniques
Children pick up on more than we often realize, and they pay attention to not only our words but also our body language and the way we interact with others around us. It is also important to understand that children do not understand medical terms and vocabulary on the same level that adults do.
Subsequently, it is important to put a lot of thought into the best way to have the discussion and deliver your message. While it is best to shy away from complex medical terms, it is important to be direct and honest when talking to children about death.
Address Difficult Topics
Oftentimes the easiest reaction when dealing with a child after the death of a loved one is to protect them from the truth and avoid difficult conversations. However, while this may spare their feelings in the short term, avoiding difficult conversations can have a negative impact on the child’s ability to cope with stressful, saddening and traumatic situations as a teenager or adult.
Therefore, it is encouraged for parents to face difficult topics head-on. Of course, it is important to address challenging topics in a delicate manner. By being sensitive, sympathetic and truthful about the situation, you can teach your child that it is okay to discuss death and other tough subjects as they grow older.
Share Your Experience
The reason for discussing death with children is difficult for many parents is because they are dealing with strong emotions as well. The fact is the death of a loved one is never easy, regardless of your age.
Fortunately, however, children understand that their parents are not perfect — nor do they expect them to be. It is okay to open up with your child and let them know that you experience grief as well. This lets the child know they are not alone, and you can create a bond in which you lean on each other.
Consult with Harbor Light Hospice for More Information
Harbor Light Hospice is here to help parents and children who are experiencing the death of a loved one. For more information and insights on effective strategies for discussing death with children, reach out to us through phone call or email today.