A Freddish guide for discussing and helping children process death.
Talking with your child when a loved one dies
- Be open to any questions your child may have, and try to answer your child’s question as directly as you can. Know that your child may ask the same question over and over as they try to process and understand what is happening. If you are unsure of the answer or unsure of what to say, it is okay to say “I wonder about that, too.”
- Use concrete words when you talk to your children. Use the word “died,” rather than “passed away” or “went to sleep” to avoid confusion. Children of all ages may make up reasons for things they don’t fully understand, and these reasons can be more upsetng than the truth.
- You can talk to your child about what happens to a person’s body when they die if they need help understanding. For example, you can let them know that when people die, they don’t need to breathe anymore. Using the word “don’t,” rather than “can’t,” helps your child to understand that the person does not need help and is not in pain or discomfort.
There is one thought that I feel can be helpful to grown-ups and children alike: Sadness isn’t forever. I’m not suggestng that we remind ourselves of this in order to lessen our grief. On the contrary. The knowledge that tme does bring relief from sadness and that sooner or later there will be days when we are happy again may allow us to grieve more fully and deeply when we need to.
Mister Rogers Talks with Parents
What your child may feel
- No reaction
“What can you do with the sad that you feel?”
- Keeping the routines and expectations in your child’s life consistent can help them feel safe and secure in the face of the changes that can come with a death.
- Sharing memories and stories with your child about the person who has died may help them work through their grief. Art projects are one way you can connect over your memories of your loved one.
- Children may engage in different forms of play after a difficult event like death. Young children may use imaginative play about death to process what is happening. This can be a normal coping mechanism and a way to communicate non-verbally. By watching your child play, you might see them act out any misunderstandings or confusion that they don’t know how to talk about.
- It may help to give children the opportunity to participate in the traditional events of a funeral or memorial service. This gives children time to work through the process of healing alongside family, friends, and community. Some ways children can participate in the funeral are by passing out programs, greeting people, lighting candles, or singing/playing music.