Death is a sensitive and difficult topic to deal with, not just for adults but also for children. Children may not understand the full extent of the concept of death, and sometimes parents find it too difficult to explain to their child because they may be dealing with grief too. However, events as significant as the death of a family member or friend may leave a lasting impact on the child, so it is important that your child understands what exactly has happened.
It is certainly not easy to talk to your child about death: it may be one of the most difficult things to do as a parent. But it’s vital that your child has some clarity about the situation, so as to avoid feelings of confusion, fear, and helplessness. As a parent, you may shy away from the topic because you fear not knowing what to say to your child, because your child may ask questions that aren’t easy to answer, or because you yourself are dealing with intense feelings of grief. It is normal to feel this way, but there are ways in which you can help your child understand the concept of death.
The best way to deal with the subject of death with your kids is by being clear and encouraging of questions. Although you may not have all the answers, you should provide your child with a safe space to ask questions freely and comfortably. If your child does not understand something in particular, clarify it and ensure that he/she has understood. Your own beliefs about death may play an important role when talking to your child: give them your spiritual understanding of death and dying, and ask them what their perspective is.
As a parent, you may want to sugarcoat things by giving your child simple ways of understanding death, such as by saying, “grandpa has gone to sleep” or “grandpa has gone away”. While these metaphors are easy for your child to understand, they may cause confusion and doubt in the future. To avoid this, try to be more direct and clear, while simultaneously encouraging your child to ask questions and raise concerns.
There is no standard method of explaining the concept of death to a child. Your responses largely depend on your child’s age, maturity level, their ability to comprehend, their reaction to the event and their relationship with the deceased. Relying on your intuitive skills as a parent is one of the best ways to handle the situation. Another healthy form of communication is to encourage your child to speak about his experience and feelings at-length. This will help you understand where your child is coming from and you can gather ideas on how to proceed with the topic.
Experiencing the loss of a near and dear one takes a toll on the entire family, and may sometimes take several months or even years to come to terms with. It may be even more confusing for a child to experience this, and watch the adults around him battling the grief. It is therefore a crucial experience that needs to be addressed in a healthy manner by the parent. However, explaining this experience to a child could be overwhelming and scary for you as a parent. We, at Parenting on Demand, have a panel of expert counselors who can help you through such difficult times, and can assist you on how best to communicate the topic of death to your child. So try not to sweep the topic under the carpet, and reach out to our counselors for help!