The U.S. is quickly approaching an ominous milestone: close to one million deaths from the coronavirus. Since spring 2020, families have been struggling to cope with loss, and parents have been figuring out how to talk to their children about death. It’s not an easy topic, especially with the current environment and social isolation. But it is an important one. Here is some advice on how to talk to children about death.
Be Straightforward. Often, children can struggle to understand the permanence of death. So it doesn’t help to use phrases like “went to sleep” or “passed away.” Instead, try to be as honest and straightforward as your can about the situation. Use simple words that they’ll understand. Explain what death means: what caused the injury or illness, and what happens to our bodies when we die.
Don’t Be Afraid to Show Emotion. Children need to know that it’s okay to express their feelings and show emotion. If you’re sad, it’s okay to cry. If you’re frustrated or angry, it’s okay to talk about that. Parents should set the example here by not being afraid to show their emotions in front of their children. If a parent is grieving for a lost loved one, they should explain to their children why they’re being emotional. They should also discuss that emotion isn’t a one-time thing and that sometimes, when a person close to you has died, you can be sad for a long time.
Give Them Time to Process. Children do not process things as quickly as adults do. It can take some time for them to work through what’s going on and how they understand or perceive the situation. This is especially true when it comes to death and loss. When you’re ready to talk to your children about death, do not expect them to internalize everything at once. It will likely take a few sessions. Just be patient, give them time to process, and check in every once in a while to see how they’re feeling about the situation. During this time, while a child is parsing through all this new information and emotions, it’s a good idea to remind them that things are going to be okay. Life is going to go on, and there are still things to look forward to.
Reinforce Love and Support. When a child loses a member of their family or a close friend, it can be destabilizing. Not only are they dealing with the knowledge that the person is gone forever, but it may also cause them to develop a fear of abandonment. So, as a child is mourning their loss, it’s very important to reinforce that they are loved and supported. Make sure the child spends plenty of time with their other family members and friends. The interaction will remind them about all the people who care for them.
Include Siblings. In some circumstances, the loss may only affect one child for example if it was their teacher instead of a family member. Regardless, it is important to share the information with the child’s siblings as well. When this information is shared with the child’s siblings, you are giving the child suffering the loss the opportunity to speak freely about it at home or on the way to school.
Incorporate Family Traditions and Religious Practices. While religions have different approaches and interpretations about death and the grieving process, incorporating these traditions and ceremonies can be comforting for the entire family. Traditions can provide structure for the grieving process and reinforce to children that there is a purpose and an end goal, and that the family and community is there for support.
Funerals Are Optional. Many parents question whether they should bring their children to the funeral of a loved one, and the answer is – let the children choose. If the child doesn’t seem ready, that’s okay. Don’t force them to attend the funeral or make them feel guilty if they don’t want to attend. Respect their decision. If a child does decide to go to the funeral, make sure they know what to expect (ex: how people will dress, how people will be acting, how the body will be presented, any ceremonies or speeches, how long the funeral will take, etc.).
If you need help with an issue related to estate planning, probate, or real estate law, please reach out to Brian M. Douglas & Associates at (770) 933-9009 or via our online contact form. One of our experienced attorneys would be happy to help.