05/02/2019 | Natalie Jewitt
We don’t often talk about death as adults so it’s not surprising that as parents we can sometimes feel at a loss as to how to talk to our children about death. Death can often happen suddenly, catching us off guard, and therefore leaving little time for us to think about how best to talk to our children about the loss of a loved one, so I thought I would write this blog for you to read now and store for when you reach a time that it will be useful.
One thing is for sure we cannot protect our children from death as we encounter death all the time, whether it’s a grandparent dying, a family pet dying, a famous person we hear about on the radio or a mouse being brought in by the cat! At an early age children form their own beliefs and thoughts about death, so it’s important we are honest, clear and keep things simple. By the age of seven or eight, many children understand that death is permanent and that it happens to everyone. Despite this understanding it can still be a struggle to get to grips with the idea, in the same way that it is for many adults.
If possible it can be good to help your child have an understanding of death, funerals, burial and cremation before actually experiencing the death of a loved one. When a pet dies it can often be a child’s first experience of death, through this experience children can learn that death is incredibly sad, but we absolutely can talk about it, share and express our feelings and unite together in our sadness. It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers to your child’s questions, it’s far better to talk about that and explain that you don’t know rather than ignoring the question. By discussing their questions, even when you don’t know the answer, you are letting your child know that it is totally okay to ask.
A few tips:
Don’t be surprised if your child asks quite practical questions instead of talking about their feelings, this is totally normal, especially with younger children. Sometimes their questions may sound strange, know that this is their way of processing and making sense of death. Typical questions could be for example: “When you die where do you go?”, “Does it hurt when you die?”, “What’s it like inside a coffin?” or “What does a dead body really look like?”. These are entirely sensible things to wonder. It will be reassuring to a child if you are able to discuss them, rather than dismissing them as silly.
It is also important to highlight that children can feel many of the feelings that we feel as adults in response to a death, but they may express their feelings differently and jump from sadness to excitement very quickly. They may also need lots of little conversations about the death to help them make sense of what has happened and their feelings about this.
There are lots of useful advice, support and guidance available at Winston's Wish, which is a childhood bereavement charity – supporting bereaved children. More information can be found on their website: www.winstonswish.org.uk.
If you would like any further advice from one of our Clinical Psychologists at Jenby's or if you feel you or your child would benefit from additional support do get in touch for a free initial telephone discussion.
Bye for now!
Article written by:
Dr Natalie Jewitt, CPsychol, BSc (Hons) DClin Psych