Death is the inevitable end of all life. No one escapes it. As adults, most of us have come to terms with this reality and the limits of our mortality. But what about kids? What if their beloved grandpa or pet dies and they are unable to process the concept of death? Being an adult, you should talk about this sensitive subject and make sure your children are able to handle the death of their loved ones.
Having the talk
The first thing you need to remember is to be patient. “If the child isn’t ready to discuss death, the most helpful step is to wait until they are ready. Let the child know you are ready to talk to them whenever they are ready to do so. Forcing information will usually result in anger, distrust, and emotional distance from others. Waiting until a child is ready to handle the situation will allow for better communication,” according to Stanford Children’s Health.
When the child is ready, be honest and direct with them. Do not talk in metaphors or in fantastical terms. Many people tend to say to children that the dead are in a “better place.” What if the child then decides that suicide is the best thing they can do since they will go to this “better place” after death? So try to be as honest as possible. Tell them that the person or pet they loved has ceased to exist and has moved on, while also reminding them that death is a natural process that governs all life.
Teach them that the entire life they live until their death is precious and that they should carefully utilize it in the best possible way, in the most righteous manner. For most children, such an explanation would be enough since they do not understand the concept of death the way adults do. If the child is grieving, support them and do not try to forcefully make them stop. Grieving is a natural reaction to losing something we love. After some time, the grief will vanish. However, if they continue to be depressed even after several months, it might be necessary to take them to a child psychologist.
You should also prepare them for a life where they will have to face the inevitable. Imagine that it is the puppy that has died and that the child used to play with it all the time. After the pet’s death, the child will likely feel lonely. How will you handle it? Some parents spend more time with children while others buy them a new pet. Whatever you do, ensure that your child moves on and looks forward to new things in life rather than being stuck in the past.
What not to do
When the whole family is in mourning, if your child suddenly feels like laughing when they play or watch TV, let them laugh. They are kids after all. Restricting their natural tendencies is the worst thing you can do, especially during this time. Laughter will allow them to slowly move away from the experience of death. Encourage it by all means and let your child come back into the normal course of life.
Some people stop talking about the dead, thinking that the memories are too painful. There is no need to do such things with a child. Studies have shown that sharing memories of deceased loved ones actually helps in healing and finding closure. If a child’s grandpa has died and they seem interested in talking about it, tell them the best memories you have of the grandfather. Don’t turn them away.