Children and Death

 


Inevitably, children will be faced with the death of a loved one, whether it is a pet or a human. For some, it may come early in their lives; for others, maybe not until they are teenagers. Death is a part of life, and parents need to try to teach children about death so that when it happens to someone they know, they won't be totally in the dark about what death is.
Children of different ages deal with and accept death in different ways. A good resource to read is Healthopedia.com: Discussing Death with Children. This website helps you to understand how children of different ages understand and deal with death.
The death of a pet may be a good way to start teaching children about death. It is very important to talk to children about death and encourage them to talk about it, also. It is good to have a good-bye ritual for a pet, even a small one such as a goldfish. Encourage them to say their goodbyes.
Parents should be honest with children about death. They should always use the words "death", and don't use the terms "sleeping" or "gone away for a while". If you tell a child that someone has gone to sleep instead of dying, they may be afraid that the other parent or grandparent (or even they) will die if they go to sleep. They may think the person will come back if you tell them that they have gone away.

Children need to know that death is a natural part of the living process. They should be taught that everything that lives will someday die because that is the way nature is. You could tell them that different animals have different life spans, as do people. If you are religious, you can integrate your faith with death and explain the afterlife as you believe it. A child may find great comfort in believing that their loved one has gone to Heaven to be with God. It helps to tell them, especially if their loved one has been sick and has been suffering, that now they are healthy and are no longer suffering.

Sometimes when children lose a parent or a grandparent to death, they might think that they will lose the others, also. Even if they don't mention it, it is good to reassure them that Grandpa was very ill, but that Grandmother is healthy and will be around a long time to come. Explain that some people die before they get old, but that not everybody dies young. They may see death as a threat to their security. They may worry that their other parent will leave them and they will be alone. They need reassurance even if they haven't verbalized their worry.

It is good to explain to children that even though their loved one is gone in body, their memories live with us, and we have pictures and mementos to remember them by. It may help for a child to write a story or draw pictures of their memories, or create a scrapbook that they can keep in which to remember the person.

Children handle grief in different ways. They may act out, wet the bed temporarily, will cry more often, seek more attention, or feel sickly.
The closer a child is to a person who has died, the harder it will be for them to cope and recover. Expect it to take time for them to heal their pain and their loneliness.
Discuss how you feel, and encourage them to tell you how they feel about the death. Don't put on a mask and act as if everything is O.K. for you, for in doing so, a child may get the message that they aren't supposed to feel sad or to grieve. Let them know that it is alright to cry and feel sad for a while.
Don't force a young child to go to a funeral, but allow them to go if they want to.
Don't force them to kiss the person goodbye in the coffin.

It is important to try to keep routines as normal as possible. Do celebrate holidays that come along. Get children out of the house and encourage them to play. Don't expect them to go into mourning. Make sure they are outside enjoying nature.
It is a mistake for a parent or a grandparent to put a child in a situation in which they feel that they need to take the place of the deceased person. Be very careful what you say and how you say it, for a child may take on a burden that is way too heavy for their young age. Never make a child feel that you are leaning on them for comfort and for companionship. Some children find it hard to concentrate in school, display personality changes, have problems eating, or have changes in sleep patterns. Some children take on the responsibility of "being there" for the remaining spouse and take the responsibility of their care and emotional well-being as something they should take on. Watch what you say and don't make them feel that they have to be the "man of the house".

Even though you enjoy their company, and their presence is indeed a comfort to you, avoid making them feel that they should spend all of their free time with you. Adults have to be the adult. They should encourage a child to be a child and not put undue responsibility on them, either physically or emotionally.

From chabad.org, "Dear Rachel" article, we learn about the value of the soul in death. Rachel says, "In Judaism, we view life as 2-dimensional; we have a body and we have a soul. The body is physical and finite, whereas the soul is a spiritual creation and is eternal to its core. The Chassidic Masters explain that the soul is an "actual piece of God", and thus, is inextinguishable. This is the part of a person that never goes away. Likewise, it is the soul that animates the body and allows a person to accomplish great things and make a positive impact in this world. The good deeds and memories one leaves behind will remain even long after the body fades."
Thus, teaching children about our souls is a good way for them to deal with death. They body goes away, but the soul remains. Memories of them remain. Their impact on our lives will always be with us.

 

 


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This page was created March 28, 2009