Protecting your child from the reality of a loved one’s death may be doing more harm than good. Children will inevitably have a lot of questions, but it is important to teach the importance of grieving a person’s loss.
Since children process death differently, it is possible that they may have a different reaction compared to adults. Young ones feel the loss strongly, and it is important for an adult to guide them through the grieving process. Parents can’t protect their children from the pain of losing someone but you can support and guide them through it.
Understanding your child’s grief.
Children are already familiar with death, may it be through its portrayal in media or stories. They experience the same things adults do. What differs is how they understand what it entails. The same goes for death.
A parent’s role goes beyond informing them of the nature of death. It is also their responsibility to teach them how to deal with the loss of a loved one and adjust to these brand-new emotions.
Encourage your child to express their feelings.
Let the conversation be two-way and encourage your child to speak their thoughts. It is a good way for them to deal with their emotions as well as allowing you to know what they feel.
You can begin this by reading children’s books about death with them. Your child may not be expressive through words, so we recommend other outlets such as pictures, drawings, or even telling stories. Try to figure out which method your kid will be most receptive to.
Explain the realities of death.
Opt for words that have a direct meaning. Avoid using gentler words which may substitute the meaning. An example of this is when a parent tells their child that the deceased only went to a long sleep. This may lead the kid to believe that the person did not pass away, but only slept to be woken up later on.
It is important to find the balance between speaking gently and being frank. We recommend using the words died and dead.
Your child may have a lot of questions regarding death, so it’s important to be patient as they take in this new information. We recommend pulling back and not overwhelming your child with information. Let them ask, and answer them in a developmentally appropriate manner.
Let them attend the funeral.
The choice to let the child attend the funeral is a highly personal one. However, we do encourage this as this will signify closure and finality for the child. Try to gauge your child’s reaction, as it can be too intense for some.
It is important to ask for your child’s choice as well. You should never force them to go if it is something they are not prepared for. If they do decide to attend, explain thoroughly what they should expect. Whether it is a casket or a cremation urn, knowing what they’re about to see will prepare the child.
Talk about the afterlife.
Whether you are religious or not, talking about the afterlife can be a source of comfort for the kid. If you’re not religious, you can tell your kid that the departed will live on in your hearts and minds.
Don’t ignore your own grief.
Don’t forget that you are grieving as well. While you help your child wade through the emotions, remember that they are looking at you as well. Children often imitate their parents, and their lack of emotion may just be mirroring yours.
Remind your child that pain and grief are normal, and that it is okay to express them. Teach them the limits and discourage them from reacting in an unhealthy manner.