How to Talk about Death in Age-Appropriate Ways
Death is often hard to cope with at any age. It is hard for many to process through the spectrum of emotions that are experienced with death. Adults can feel intimidated when deciding when and how to inform children that they love that someone has died. Some questions that come to mind are the following: How do you start the conversations? Should you wait until you are no longer sad, before discussing it with the children that you love? I have listed 5 tips below that can help you choose your words:
1) Consulting with a clinical counselor is always something to consider. Counselors can help you process through your emotions (crying is normal and it is okay if the children see you sad or crying) anticipate the emotional needs and stage of emotional development that the child/children have achieved.
2) Explain death in concrete terms. For example, saying "they went away to Heaven", "they are asleep", "they are in a better place", etc. can be confusing and misleading to children. Telling the child that the person "died" and that they will not be able to touch them or see them again is more appropriate.
3) Answer their questions (in age-appropriate ways). For example, if someone was stabbed multiple times and the child asks you what happened, you would not need to explain this in great detail. Telling the child that the person was hurt and died is appropriate.
4) Monitor their behavior. Children may express their grief and distress through behaviors. If you notice their behavior changing consider working with the school-based counselor and/or a pediatric counselor to help them process through their emotions.
5) Prepare them for death before you need to have the conversation by talking to them about nature and the cycle of life.
Psychologytoday.com and Parents.com have great information about this topic. Two books that I recently provided to a family that experienced the loss of their father (young children survived the father) are listed below:
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf:
Author: Alita-Geri Carter, MSN, RN, CPNP-PC