Talking to Your
Children about Death
difficult, if not impossible, to explain death in words that
children will understand when we don’t even really understand it
Still, it’s important to take the time to talk to your
children. These are some points to keep in mind:
--It’s easier to talk to your children about death
before your parent is near death. And it is easier to talk about
death in general, or the death of someone who isn’t too close to the
family, than to talk about the death of a loved one. You might
prepare your child by bringing up the subject after an elderly
parishioner or neighbor has died.
--You can use books to prepare your child.
Local Catholic bookstores will have age-appropriate books for
children about death. (For example Your Grieving Child by
Bill Dodds (Our Sunday Visitor) and Water Bugs and Dragonflies,
by Doris Stickney (Pilgrim Press).)
--You’re upset, too. It isn’t just your parent’s
approaching death that can be upsetting to your child; it’s seeing
you so upset as well. Don’t gloss over or hide your feelings, but be
aware that your child is picking up on them.
--Your child may take the death of your parent very
personally. “I’m not going to see my grandma ever again.”
--A child’s sense of security can be rattled. If
Grandpa can die, that means Dad can die. If Dad can die, that means
I can die.
--It’s important to choose your words carefully.
In some ways, talking to your child about death is like explaining
“the birds and the bees.” You use words and concepts that someone at
his or her age level will more easily understand. At the same time,
it helps to remember that different children have different
personalities and points of view. One child is more intellectual.
Another is more easily frightened. Another is more sensitive. Use an
approach that fits each child best. It’s also best to talk to each
child individually before bringing up the subject with all your
children as a group.
--Talking about death as “falling asleep” or using
similar analogies can be confusing for a child. Phrases like
those can makes it difficult for some children to sleep because
they’re afraid that if they do, they too will die. Also, if they see
Grandma napping, they may become frightened that she has died. “God
wanted Grandpa with him in heaven”—another common explanation—can
make God seem pretty selfish, if not downright mean.
--This can be a good time to talk about spiritual
beliefs. Talk about bodies and souls. Yes, we won’t see Grandma
again here on earth, but where she’s going is a much better place.
Where she’s going she’ll be happy forever, and someday we’ll all be
there, together again.
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