Nobody likes to talk about death and dying, especially with young children. However, when an important or loved person dies, it's important to find the time to discuss their death as soon as possible. If your child were to overhear the sad news by accident or be told by somebody they aren't close to, they may react in an angry and confused way.
You may need to help children navigate their feelings
Unlike adults, children aren't necessarily equipped to accurately express their feelings, so they may need your help working through their emotions. It's also worth keeping in mind that children, just like adults, can feel and express a range of emotions when someone does. Conversely, it's also normal if some children don’t show much emotion when someone close to them dies.
Get support for yourself
Given the delicate nature of the conversation, some people may prefer to have the support of another adult. This person may be a partner if you have one or another close family member. In some instances, having a trial run with another adult can be helpful.
Depending on the age of your children and their temperament, you may decide to talk to them together or separately.
Whilst guides are a very useful tool, religion and spiritual belief will influence the way in which you address the topic of death and the people who have died.
Keep It Simple
In keeping with the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) methodology, simple, truthful explanations are always best. Avoid using ephemisums for deah like “passed away” and “gone to sleep” as these phrases can be confusing, misleading and frightening to a child who may then believe they could die in their sleep. Instead the term “death” is clearer and less likely to be misconstrued. It’s also important to let your child understand the permanency of death to avoid disappointment later down the track.
Be prepared for questions
Considering what questions your child may ask, can help you prepare for the conversation. It gives you time to jot down some answers and prepare a rough script if you’re someone who likes a plan. It's also perfectly OK to tell your child you don't know the answers but will get back to them as soon as possible with the answers. Common questions children may ask include: Why did they die? Will you die? Will I die? What happens when you die?
A list of child friendly resources you may find useful in helping your child understand and deal with their emotions around death include:
Goodbye Mog by Judith Kerr
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
The Tiny Star by Mem Fox
Beginnings and Ending with Lifetimes in Between by Bryan Mellonie
The Memory Tree by Bryan Mellonie
Badgers Parting Gifts by Susan Varley
Everything Comes to an End by Teeny Tiny Stevies
ABC Podcast Parental As Anything with Maggie Dent - Grief counsellor Karen Ferry on How to help kids deal with death and loss.
Lastly, it’s perfectly fine if your child sees you crying, upset or sad. Providing an explanation as to why you feel sad will only act to support your child’s experience too.
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