Thursday, July 30, 2009

Talking To Children About Death




Recently, the world was shocked to hear reports that the King Of Pop, Michael Jackson, had died. Like the rest of the world, I, too, was glued to the television as they showed the retrospective of his career. My eyes filled with tears as I watched videos of the Jackson 5 singing “I’ll be There” and “I want you back.” In fact, I was so moved that I failed to immediately notice that my 8-year-old son appeared grief stricken as well. Puzzled by this, I thought “He didn’t even know who Michael was.” However, this truly did not matter because the issue was far deeper.

Many parents simply don't know how to explain death to their children. It is, indeed, hard to find the appropriate words and the right answers to all of the questions they will have about death. However, from a professional standpoint, I encourage all parents to discuss this issue early on instead of waiting until a tragedy occurs. This can be done by using common experiences like falling leaves, a funeral procession, or a dead animal or insect to bring up and discuss the subject of death.

Here are some things to consider when discussing this subject after a death has occurred:

Talk to children soon after a death occurs
Although we often think that by not discussing an issue, children will not be aware of the truth. However, this is almost always not the case. Speaking with children quickly also ensures that parents will be the ones discussing the death with their children, instead of someone else.

Define death in clear and simple terms
Parents should try not to use fantasy terms when describing what it means to die. Being honest is the best way to limit fears and confusion. Also, avoid casualizing or minimizing the true impact of death. For example, saying that Grand Pa just went to sleep can insight fear that they might not wake up after falling asleep.



Children should be allowed to grieve in their own way
Sometimes children's reactions to death don't meet their parents' expectations. It is contraindicated to insist that children display sorrow, or, on the other hand, that they be brave. Parents should instead encourage their children to express their feelings in their own unique way. If you feel that your son or daughter is suppressing their true feelings, you can encourage them to express themselves through activities like drawing and journaling. You might be surprised by how much emotion that they share through such art forms.


Be Reassuring
It is very scary to children when they confront death for the first time, as it conjures up questions about their own mortality. Reassure them that you understand their fears, and although no one truly knows when they will die, you expect that both of you will be around for a long time!


At some point, your child will be faced with a loss, and they will need help understanding their feelings about it. How much they understand, and how you talk about it depends largely on your child’s age and emotional development. Regardless of how you choose to broach the conversation, make sure to do so. Arming them with knowledge is always the best way to go.

Happy Parenting,

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