Talking to children about death can be uncomfortable and very often parents don t think about talking to their children about this subject until a close relative, friend or even pet dies. This may be because parents do not want to speak about the subject themselves, or because they are attempting to spare their children the pain and grief that accompanies a loss. Unfortunately, waiting until the exact moment of grief means that parents are not in the best frame of mind to discuss death, and children only have confusion and frustration to compound their natural emotions regarding their loss. Instead, speaking with children about death as a natural part of life long before they are ever faced with it may spare everyone a further ordeal when a loved one does die.
Age Appropriate Information
As with most things, discussions about life and death should always be age appropriate for the child involved. This means using vocabulary that the child understands, examples to which the child can relate, and resources that the child will find interesting. For example, children who like to help in the garden may respond well to a discussion of plants or flowers that live and die. Children who enjoy animals may understand better if the example is based on a goldfish that stopped swimming. Books and certain children s television shows may well tackle the subject of death and provide an opportunity for parents and children to discuss the topic. Very often these discussions will be short as children have a naturally limited attention span. This is fine. The important thing is that a short discussion takes place, and further discussions continue when the next opportunity presents itself.
Questions and Answers
Children are curious creatures and it is only smart to assume that their curiosity will extend to the topic of death. Parents should be prepared for some questions and try to answer them honestly. For example, a child may wonder if it is lonely to be dead or if they will ever see their friends again if they die. Such questions should not upset parents. If children talk about their own deaths it is usually because they are attempting to understand the topic in relation to themselves, not because they are expecting to die soon. In fact, many children may discuss this topic without truly understanding the concept of death. Serious questions should be met with serious answers, and this holds true for any question that the child has asked seriously (whether or not it seems amusing to an adult).
Children and Funerals
When a death does occur, many parents are uncertain of if they should bring their child to the funeral. Parents should remember that funerals are events at which many individuals find closure and have a chance to say goodbye to the deceased. If the child is at an age where they may take advantage of these opportunities then they should be included. However, parents should be ready for questions at the funeral and/or burial. For example, when watching a coffin lowered a child may ask if it is cold in the ground, or if it is really necessary to leave the deceased alone. Parents should answer these questions honestly, though they may want to do so in private as other attendees may feel that they have the right to answer the question as well. If children are too young to sit through a funeral, it may be better to leave them at home with a babysitter.