Death is an event which fills the mind and soul with grief and sorrow. Talking about death is a very difficult, more so when you need to discuss it with a child. Children, however fragile and weak they may seem, they are the ones who are emotionally quite strong to cope up with the situation.
An important question that at times you encounter is how to help children understand death. Children’s capacity to understand death and the way you should approach them will vary according to the age of the child. Children below the age of 5 – 6 view the world in a very literal sense. So death should be explained in a very specific and concrete terms to them. Explain death by using phrases like “the person’s body stopped working and the doctors were unable to fix it”. You should also make them understand that “dying” or “dead” means the person’s body stopped working. Kids have no idea that everyone in this world will die one day. Hence, they keep on asking question about when the person will come back. Maintain patience and continue to reiterate that as the person has died he/ she will never come back.
Though children of ages about 6 – 10 still don’t understand that everyone will face death one day, yet they start to grasp the finality of death. It is best to give an accurate, simple, clear and honest explanation of death to kids of such ages.
As kids reach their teens a lot of things become clear to them. They start to understand that every human being is bound to die at a certain point of time in their life. A lot of questions start cropping up in their minds about mortality, vulnerability and they start searching more meaning in a death of a near one. At times, teens experience guilt when suddenly one of their peers dies. It is necessary for you to be by his/ her side and experience and share their grief.
Generally, this educational process starts with the death of a relative. In case your child experience the death of a pet before that, it is good to educate them during that time. So, when actually a close relative dies, the child is already in a position to cope up with the death. Helping children understand death is a crucial task as you are unaware about how a child would face the reality of death. Let us explore some possibilities which can make the process a bit easy.
Helping Children Understand Death
- Be honest with kids and encourage questions. After facing a death, a kid tends to ask a lot of questions about death. You might not always have answers to such queries, but be patient and create an atmosphere of comfort and openness. Explain the facts about the death in as simple language as possible.
- Avoid using euphemisms like the loved one “went to sleep” or “went for a long trip”. These phrases can have a negative impact on the child’s mind. Firstly, he may get afraid while going to sleep or fearful to go for a trip. Secondly, such phrases give them the hope that the deceased will either wake up or return from the trip. Hence, it is always a better way of approach to say that the loved one is dead as his/ her body stopped working. The person won’t live with us anymore and that we will always remember the person.
- As it is the time when you can grieve the death of a close one, it is good time to make them understand how vulnerable we are. In cases of deaths due to accidents, teach your kid about ways to stay safe and healthy.
- In the event of a death in your family the first question that arises is how to help children understand death. The fact is that children have the inner strength to face the occurrence of a death, but they need a bit of help from you. Assure them the death did not occur due to any of their faults and that it occurs to everyone. Children generally accept the beliefs of their parents. So a belief in life after death will definitely comfort your child if that concept is also part of your beliefs. For helping children understand death, it is your duty to be as clear and true as possible.