When someone in the family or community dies, children are at times kept away from it. Death is a very normal part of life and children, like adults, need to know and understand what is happening, at an age appropriate level of course. They also need closure and support to deal with the loss.
Many children’s first experience of death is that of a pet; it can be great for this to be a first experience as no matter how upsetting the loss is, it will not be as great as that of a family member.
When talking with children about death:
- Tell them the truth, someone has died, they will not be able to come back. Talk with them about where you believe they go to after death.
- Allow children to ask questions, although you may be very upset at this time, children need information to cope with the death. The more details they have the easier it can be for them. They will want to know how they died and why. You may not have all the answers and tell them if you don’t.
- Allow children be part of the funeral and days leading up to the funeral. Allow them time to look in the coffin when it is quiet. Allow them to examine the dead person and put things into the coffin with them, if they wish to.
- Bring them at a quiet time, not the first time you visit the coffin, allow yourself some space to grieve and then allow your child time with you.
- It is okay for children to see you upset. Sadness and grief are part of our human emotions. Children need to know we have them and your role is to support them to cope with these feelings.
- Always tell anyone working closely with your child about the death so they too can support the child in the weeks and months ahead.
- Children will continue to ask questions for what seems like forever. Be patient with them and give them permission to talk and share memories of the dead person.
- Start your own traditions around how you will remember the dead person. Will you visit the grave, let off a balloon every so often, look at photos and talk about the good memories. Children don’t want to forget, so even though this may be hard for you to cope with at times when you need to get on with things, tell them it is okay to talk and remember, even if it does make you sad.
- If a child loses a sibling or an unborn sibling, share this with them. Create memories for them. It is very important that you can talk with them about this. They will know something has changed in the family, in you. It is important that as a child they know what has changed. We often want to protect children from terrible things that happen, but keeping them as part of the unit, close to you and helping them understand, is much more beneficial for them long term. Finding out as an adult about such things can be more heart breaking.
- Children will go through the stages of grief just as adults do. Support them and if at any stage you feel they need more support than you can offer, seek professional support for them through programmes such as Rainbows, Seasons of Growth, Play and Art Therapy and many other services.
This article is part of our weekly ’10 Ways to’ series of parenting tips, and is by One Family’s Director of Children and Parenting Services, Geraldine Kelly.
LIVE Facebook Q&A on this topic with Geraldine, 19 January from 11am-12pm on One Family’s Facebook page. Join in and post your questions.
Find out more about our parenting skills programmes and parent supports. For support and information on these or any related topics, call askonefamily on lo-call 1890 66 22 12 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.