Death may be a natural part of life; however, children – especially young children – are not always familiar with the term and its significance. While explaining death to your child may not be easy, it is important to be as open with your children as you can in order for them to effectively open themselves to grieving and subsequently, healing.
Have an open mind when teaching your children about death. It is not an easy topic to discuss, particularly if you are going through a period of grief yourself. Be open to your children asking questions and answer them to the best of your ability.
Make sure to explain that every person grieves differently and that it is okay for your children to grieve in their own way, providing they are not destructive to themselves or others. It is typical for children to forget that death is a permanent state and they may ask when a beloved pet will be coming back or when daddy will be home.
Depending upon the circumstances surrounding the death, it may be more difficult for you to explain to your children. An elderly person dying is a little easier to explain than the family dog being hit by a car or a close friend or relative dying suddenly in a car accident or similar situation.
In the case of a pet, it may be tempting to say that Fido ran away, but be aware that you are potentially leaving hope to your children that Fido will find his way back home. It is better to let your children know that Fido was hit by a car and died from his injuries than to instill false hope that one day Fido will return.
If a close relative is suddenly gone from your life, especially a child’s parent, it can be a mind-numbing experience. Children have expressed guilt over the passing of a parent or close relative. If the child is old enough to understand the circumstances, it is okay to share the details. It is also okay, however, to simply tell the child that the person has passed away. Children tend to take language literally rather than figuratively, so be sure to use straight language and avoid any euphemisms.
Explain that death and dying are normal parts of life and that everyone will one day die themselves. It may be frightening for children to learn of their mortality, but it will help them cope to learn that death is a natural event. Open yourself up to answer any questions that your child may have and you will not only teach your child a life lesson, but also help your child grieve and heal.