Death is still pretty taboo subject in society. Most of us don’t like thinking about our own eventual deaths or the deaths of loved ones, but the fact is, we are all going to die one day.
Sadly our children aren’t immune and some of the people (or pets) they love the most will die when they are still young. When that happens, it is up to you as a responsible parent to explain death to them and help them to deal with their grief. Talk about a tough task!
If you’re going through a bereavement right now, and you’re looking for advice to get your kids through their grief, here are some tips that might help. Just remember to tackle them in an age-appropriate way as best you can…
Work Out How Much They Understand
First of all, you should work out exactly how much your kid(s) understand about death and what it means for them. A lot of kids have no prior experience of death, and so the concept can be quite abstract to them. They might have some funny ideas about what death is and what it means, and you need to know about them if you’re going to be able to discuss things with them properly.
Simple and Honest is the Best Way Forward
Parents naturally want to protect their kids from the harsh reality of death and the pain of grief, but to do so could make them more confused and lead to some potential issues as they get older.
Whether it’s simply their pet hamster who has died or their much-beloved grandma, you need to be absolutely honest and let them know that the person, or thing, they loved has passed on and they won’t be coming back. Answer any questions they have about the process of death honestly and in language simple enough for them to understand too.
If you don’t do this, you won’t protect them; you’ll just leave them wondering what is happening and what it all means and that could lead to distress. The unknown is always more frightening than the truth, no matter how upsetting it might be!
In a similar vein, many psychologists believe that it is a bad idea use euphemisms, especially with younger children, who often take them quite literally. Tell them that grandpa has ‘gone away’ and your kid might think that he has decided to leave them and move away to another place without a second thought for them or saying aunt Marie is resting in peace could lead to them thinking that she’s just gone away for a relaxing break or a really long sleep and she’ll be back eventually. You need to remember that kids process the world differently to adults, and although these scenarios might seem silly to you, kids can believe them wholeheartedly.
Spend More Time with Them
When your kids are dealing with grief, it is a pretty good idea to spend more time with them, especially if they have shown some concerns for your own safety. If they’re worried that you’re going to die too, then any prolonged absence could be tough for them. If you’re worried about being able to get time off work, take a look at this employers guide to bereavement leave for some idea what your rights may be. You might also want to speak with your employer because most are pretty sympathetic to these kinds of situations.
Let Them Feel What They’re Feeling
Whether your kids are crying and crying or they’re seemingly showing little emotion about the news at all, you should let them be. You shouldn’t try to force the ‘right’ kind of reaction as you see it or worry if they seem to be taking things too badly/not badly enough. Everyone reacts to grief differently, and children are no exception.
Don’t Hide Your Own Emotions
You should also not be concerned about showing your own emotions in front of your children, by being open about your own grief, you will show your child that it is normal to feel sad/angry/etc., when someone you love is taken away from you, and they won’t be so worried about letting their own emotions out as a result.
Don’t Get Upset by Them
Sometimes, kids who have suffered a bereavement will come out with some statements that can seem cold or weird, but that’s just kids being kids. They aren’t being callous or trying to hurt anyone; they’re just voicing their feelings or thinking about the topic out loud. The last thing they need is for you to get upset by what they’re saying, which could make them feel ashamed or afraid to ask any more questions about the situation.
Talk to Them about Funerals and Other Death Rituals
If your children are going to be taking part in any death-related rituals or attending funerals and memorial services, then it is a very good idea to talk to them about it beforehand. Explaining to them what funerals are, why we have them and what is likely to happen, so that they aren’t shocked when it does! You should also perhaps ask them if they would like to include any little touches of their own to the event (if it’s for a close friend or family member) and if there’s anything they would like to do to pay tribute to the dead in their own way.
Funerals and rituals can be scary, but if your kids are prepared, then it should be less of an issue. Of course, if talking with them about it, it becomes apparent that they are scared and they don’t feel up to it, don’t force them to attend/take part!
If it becomes apparent your kids are having trouble processing a death, and nothing you do seems to help, it might e=be worth making an appointment with a bereavement therapist. They may be able to do what you can’t and get to the heart of the matter faster – there’s nothing wrong with that.
I hope this helps you help your children at what is always such a difficult time.