As parents, our job is to guide our little ones through as we teach them the ways of life. The more difficult the concept, the greater struggle it is to help our children understand.
Death, for example, is such a profound and abstract idea. While it is difficult for children to comprehend what death is, it is also challenging for parents to adequately explain it.
The easy answer may be to hide away from talking about it altogether but, eventually, your child will have to deal with the passing of a loved one. Whether it be a pet, a friend or a family member, your little one is going to need help processing the situation and the emotions that accompany it.
Here are 6 steps you can take to help you little one understand and deal with the concept of death:
1. Use Clear Language
When it’s time to explain a recent loss to your child, keep it simple and straightforward. Try not to overload them with details about the cause of death or elaborate analogies to explain what happened.
Use language appropriate to your child’s age. If you are concerned about not being able to appropriately explain the situation, it’s perfectly okay to turn to books written to address this specific issue.
2. Give Your Child Time to Process
While your initial instinct after breaking the news may be to hold your child close and smother them with support, your little one may need to some to actually process what you have just told them.
Let them come to you for comfort. Let them cry. Let them storm off to their room. Just let them know you are there for them if they need you.
3. Listen and Guide Them
Ask your child if they have any questions and answer them as honestly as you can. If they are overcome with emotion, help them label what they are feeling.
When they are ready to talk to you, be sure to listen. Try to avoid offering guidance or advice until they have expressed themselves.
If your child does not display grief or sadness, that’s okay. They may still be processing or unable to express themselves. You can assure them it’s okay to feel negative emotions at this time. A journal for them to write or draw their thoughts and feelings may help them sort out their emotional confusion.
4. Explain the Process and What to Expect
Without going into the technical details, walk your child through what comes next: visitations funerals, burial. Prepare them for the emotional reactions they may witness from family members and friends.
Again, there are some amazing books that explain funerals in a clear and age-appropriate way. This may help your child understand what to expect.
5. Talk About the Deceased
It may seem easier to not talk about the deceased to avoid sadness and grief, but it is best for your child if you help them remember the person they just lost.
Death seems a little less scary when you focus on the life and happiness experienced by those we have lost. Print a photo of the deceased or have your child draw a picture of them. Talk about happy memories and good times with that person.
6. Give Your Child Time
As adults, it’s likely we have dealt with death once or twice and, even though it’s never easy, it’s not the scary unknown that children experience.
Children are not equipped to deal with heightened emotions and do not have enough knowledge of the world to understand death. Give them time to process and understand what is happening. Let them know you are there to guide and support them.