Children and Death
It is very important to talk to children about death, particularly when you are dealing with your own grief. It is important to remember that children grieve too. They experience loss just as adults do. Children must be encouraged to experience their grief and know that it is okay to have the feelings they do.
When a death occurs, don’t avoid the subject of death with children. Their feelings need to be acknowledged. Children may not have a deep understanding of what death is, but they understand the way it affects their lives. Children should be told about a death as soon as possible, in familiar surroundings and in a quiet and gentle manner.
Encourage the emotions of grief. Children need to grieve.
Be honest about death. Death is very real and needs to be explained in an honest and realistic way. Do not suggest to children that Grandpa is "sleeping". They need to know that Grandpa has died. They need to hear the words dead or died - not lost or passed away.
As adults we must answer children’s questions honestly and openly encourage them to ask questions, no matter how difficult they may be for us to answer. Be simple and direct using language the child will understand. Be sure not to over explain or give more information than the child can comprehend. At ages 3-5 children deny death is final. At ages 5-9 children accept someone has died. At ages 10 and up children understand that they too will die someday.
As adults the greatest gift we can give a child is ourselves. Be willing to listen, to give a hug, be willing to give yourself. A child should be given the choice to be involved in the visitation, funeral and cemetery. Children need to be involved in the rituals because it reinforces their role as valued family members. If they are excluded it could make them fearful of death. We all fear the unknown. Dr.William Lamers Jr. advises: "If a child is old enough to walk, let them walk with you in the funeral home. If not old enough to walk, carry them with you."
Healing is a process... recovery is a choice. Remember, just as a tree must be exposed to rain, snow, wind or forces other than sunlight in order to grow, children must face the unfortunate aspects of life.