As an experienced child physiologist, it’s important to understand that children always view the world differently to adults. There are few cases where this is as clear – and as important to understand – then when dealing with the loss of a loved one. From working with children myself, there are a number of ways to explain this process that can work, so here’s now to help your child.
1. Don’t Be Surprised
As already stated, children handle things differently than adults. This is even more obvious in the early development stages, where concepts such as death and loss are often too much to handle. All children are individual and unique, so they will not all act in the same manner. Some may choose to be alone, others may be visibly angry and upset. What is crucial here is that they are given a certain amount of space to express themselves in the way that feels natural for them.
2. Tell the truth
Children, specifically younger generations, may need a helping hand understanding death and this will invariably come with a series of questions you may not want to answer. Yet, no matter what you do, it is important to be as honest as possible. Even in the most difficult situations, such as helping a child with the loss of a parent or close relative, children have a right to know the truth. Unfortunately, it falls on you to make this point clear, as any doubts could be taken as false hopes. Children will also ask plenty of questions, especially about the funeral or physical processes, and this is something you should anticipate.
3. Share Memories
At the same time, it is always vital that the dead aren’t treated as a taboo subject. Many adults can often be apprehensive talking about loss in front of children, but it’s important to share fond memories. Kids can pick up on a variety of details for all ages and they will notice when somebody stops being spoken about. Just because nobody addresses the elephant in the room doesn’t mean nobody is aware of it. This may even influence a kid’s own views on death, so it is better to keep the memory of somebody alive. As an added bonus, this will encourage children to speak aloud about the deceased and, hopefully, enable them to discuss their own feelings on the matter.
4. Memorial Services
In the vast majority of situations, the deceased are given a memorial service such as a funeral or cremation. However, there is often some debate as to whether or not children should be involved in funerals, but they certainly should not be ignored. Well informed children may wish to go and one could certainly argue they have a right to attend in the case of family relatives. On the other hand, it may also be worthwhile to hold private memorials at home, where younger members may feel they are able to speak more freely. Funerals are often a time old friends and the wider family gather, so children may not be as willing to speak up when there are so many strangers around.
5. Continued Support
When losing someone close, children will often need a little help and support, even after the initial stages. For younger members, this may simply involve having to reassure them that death is a permanent state, while older members may struggle to get used to somebody’s absence. Death is a big change in anybody’s life and there are times when this may be difficult to cope with, just as there may be times when it’s a little more bearable. Children are very much like adults in this way: we all have days when we need a little help.
In closing, there is no one real ‘right’ answer to explain the loss of a loved one to a child. When emotions are high, people often react differently and children are no different. Still, if you take the time to explain things clearly, children often appreciate being treated with honesty on a difficult topic.
** How do you feel on this subject? Do you feel children should be treated more like adults, or that some areas of death are more important to discuss than others?