I think it all started when I told people I was going to school to become a counselor. Friends call me when they’ve gone through a loss and ask me about how to talk to their kids about death. First off, there is no class for that. When it happens a couple times you really start thinking about how to approach it.
I’ve known people who have just pretended that nothing had changed. This may make sense if it was a random stranger on the news, but this does not work if it was grandpa. I’ve seen parents grieve and go through the grieving process in front of their kids but not told them why. Kids are not unintelligent. They know when something has changed, and they are insightful to the emotions of the adults who care for them. What this does is remove their permission to go through the grieving process themselves. This sends a non-verbal statement that they are not allowed to talk about the change and the loss. Allow your child to grieve with you, and teach them how.
Why is this one so hard?
It’s hard to talk about things when we don’t feel like we know all the answers… here’s the thing, no one does. If you don’t know, you can say that . To your child you may be the expert on all things to do with life, but you can take this opportunity to teach them it is okay to not have all the answers. Take this opportunity to connect with them and to go through the grieving process together. This is a great chance to talk to them about your beliefs allowing them to know your beliefs and choose their own. I believe that people who have put their faith in Christ will spend forever in heaven and will be reunited with their loved ones. It gives my life purpose to share that hope and it gives hope in the face of death. This life is not the end. That helps me to deal with the loss of loved ones. It gives me hope. Why wouldn’t I share that hope with my kids? Now if I’ve never talked about my faith before, this may cause some confusion. If they have seen the presence of faith prior to the loss of a loved one it will add to a more complete picture of faith.
Here’s a few things to know about kids and their cognitive development and understanding.
From around age 10 to adolescence kids understand that death is a part of life, and that everyone, including them, will die someday.
Between age 5-10 Kids are putting together that death is final that it happens around them. They may not yet understand their a sense of mortality. Death may be a cause of fearfulness for them.
Kids before age five, to them the sense of permanence has not set in, it may be impersonal. Do not be surprised if they do not grasp it, this is normal. Often times they will model the Greif they see. You’re teaching them how to grieve. Be intentional about your terminology. Statements like “They’re no longer with us”, “They’ve gone on to be with the Lord”, ” They are at rest” this can be very confusing for smaller children. Concrete terms are easier to understand for this age group.
Dealing with death and dying will be something they will need and use their whole life. Do not teach them that mourning and grief is not ok.
You’re here, Reading my 600 words on the topic. This tells me that you do care about how to do this. Know that the part that gets kids through the loss of loved ones is the support they have in their life. You don’t have to have all the perfect words or presentation. Just keep being there for them. Show them healthy habits. If you don’t the healthiest of habits, show them the habits you wish you had. Teach them that life goes on. It’s ok to be sad but our loved ones would want us to keep living. Look for ways to honor the lost loved one, look for lessons that they’d have you to have from their death. More importantly, look for the lessons you can learn from their life.