Explaining Death to a Child

Studies have shown that children as young as 2 years old can understand and comprehend the death of a loved one. For children at a very early age having an awareness and response to death, they should be given the opportunity to attend the visitation and the funeral service. Even though these children can understand the death, they still need guidance from an adult about what is going on. Children can have a vivid imagination if things are not properly explained to them. The funeral director can advise you on how to assist children at the time of a funeral, and can provide you with additional information and literature.
The following is a list of do’s and don’ts to help you when talking to children about death compiled by NFDA grief educator and minister Victor M. Parachin.

DO be honest about death. As hard as it may be to break the news to a child, honesty is the best policy. It is far worse for a child to accidentally discover the “secret” and then be told “We thought it was best not to tell you.”
DON’T use euphemisms. Explaining death to a child as “Uncle Johnny went on a long trip” or “Grandma Betty is sleeping” may instill fear in the child of going on a trip or to sleep. It is better to explain in simple phrases like “dead means a person’s body has stopped working and won’t work any more.”
DO help children express their feelings. Encourage children to cry-out their grief and talk out their thoughts and feelings about death.
DO be a good listener. Like adults, children need to talk about the loss and their feelings connected to it.
DON’T tell a child how to feel. Let a child experience and express grief in their own way.
DO offer continuous love and assurance. Children need to know they are loved to feel secure. By being present and available during the difficult mourning process, parents can help their children bear the pain.
DON’T hide your grief from children. Seeing you grieve will let children know that it is normal and healthy to cry and feel sad after death.
DO invite others to help your children. Often, someone outside the family can provide much needed additional comfort, concern and care.
DON’T assume children will just “get over it.” Whether you are dealing with a young child or adolescent, be proactive and provide all of the comfort and consolation you can.
DO nurture faith but DON’T blame your personal religious god. Often a death will draw religious questions from a child. Explaining to a child that “God needed daddy,” or “It was Allah’s will,” can create future spiritual problems. Instead, remind your child that “Buddha shares our pain and will help us get through the crisis.”

The following is a list of do’s and don’ts to help you when talking to children about death compiled by NFDA grief educator and minister Victor M. Parachin.

DO be honest about death. As hard as it may be to break the news to a child, honesty is the best policy. It is far worse for a child to accidentally discover the “secret” and then be told “We thought it was best not to tell you.”
DON’T use euphemisms. Explaining death to a child as “Uncle Johnny went on a long trip” or “Grandma Betty is sleeping” may instill fear in the child of going on a trip or to sleep. It is better to explain in simple phrases like “dead means a person’s body has stopped working and won’t work any more.”
DO help children express their feelings. Encourage children to cry-out their grief and talk out their thoughts and feelings about death.
DO be a good listener. Like adults, children need to talk about the loss and their feelings connected to it.
DON’T tell a child how to feel. Let a child experience and express grief in their own way.
DO offer continuous love and assurance. Children need to know they are loved to feel secure. By being present and available during the difficult mourning process, parents can help their children bear the pain.
DON’T hide your grief from children. Seeing you grieve will let children know that it is normal and healthy to cry and feel sad after death.
DO invite others to help your children. Often, someone outside the family can provide much needed additional comfort, concern and care.
DON’T assume children will just “get over it.” Whether you are dealing with a young child or adolescent, be proactive and provide all of the comfort and consolation you can.
DO nurture faith but DON’T blame your personal religious god. Often a death will draw religious questions from a child. Explaining to a child that “God needed daddy,” or “It was Allah’s will,” can create future spiritual problems. Instead, remind your child that “Buddha shares our pain and will help us get through the crisis.”

 

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