Someone we love died today …what do I tell my child??
Experiencing death of a loved one is never easy and it is especially difficult when explaining death to young children. Young children don’t really understand the finality of death. Adults sometimes have difficulty with this concept as well.
Death is a fact of life and at some point you as an adult may be faced with comforting a young child. It may be a grandchild, niece, nephew or a friend’s child. One thing is certain: since we live in a post 9/11 world, this topic will always be current. Unfortunately, it’s not only natural causes of death or accidents that we have to deal with, but a surge in violence in our society too. We seem to be faced with dealing with death much too often these days.
Technology has enabled us to be at the scene of the crime and sometimes instantly in the moment. In this age of wide spread media coverage, we have a front row seat at the Colorado Movie Theatre shooting or of re-runs of the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
Your kids will certainly be exposed to a discussion on death. It may be in the school yard, while surfing computer sites with an older friend or sibling, or by turning on the TV.
Adults seem to have a more difficult time talking about death then young children do. Young children have a natural curiosity about many topics and one of them is death.
I fondly remember having discussions with my kindergarten class when we were touched by someone’s death. Parents would often share with me that their child might be upset since their grandmother or father or uncle or friend just died. We had some very interesting and insightful class discussions.
Children want to know where the dead person goes? If we think they go to heaven, what is that like? What do people do in heaven? How is heaven the same or different then where they live now?
It is much easier to talk with a child about death when it isn’t personal and has not touched their family. Since death is a fact of life, it will touch all of us at some point in time. It is much easier and more comfortable to visit the subject before an event, rather than talk about it for the first time when tragedy strikes. Take the time now to talk about general & specific feelings when you are not distraught yourself.
Activities that you can do with your child:
- Ask them to draw a picture of how they think the character in the book was feeling–empathizing with the character in the book.
- If a death has touched your family personally, ask your child to draw a picture of how they remember that person, tell them it’s OK to feel sad.
- Share a funny story or a touching memory about that person
- If you have home movies about the person who passed away, watch them together and ask your child how they feel.
- Talk about how you, as an adult, feel or felt in this situation, when you experienced death in your family.
- Read some stories geared to young children about death and discuss the feelings in the story
- Walk in your neighborhood and see if you can see the leaves changing and dying and the birth of new leaves or plants. Great time to talk about the natural life cycle of everything.
Judy Egett Laufer BA,
Author of the new-re-release, “Where Did Papa Go?” (www.littleeggpublishing.com) and of the new release, “Last Night I Had a Laughmare-Bedtime Adventures in Gigglyville” (www.laughmarebook.com), is a certified early childhood educator/consultant and has taught Kindergarten for over a decade. She wrote this to help families talk to their children about death and dying. Her strategy for diffusing difficult situations with children is talking to them and especially listening to them. Laufer wanted to give children and their parents a way to communicate with each other and share feelings. Laufer attended Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. She is married and she currently lives with her husband and son in the Southwest.