Death is a taboo subject. Something most people don’t talk to young children about unless they ask. Even then it can be difficult to explain when young minds think that life is eternal.
Sometimes though death can be all too real when there is a death of a family member. Then it is often the job of parents to try to explain that our time on this earth is limited. However there is no easy way to put this into words without upsetting young children or giving them nightmares.
One way to help children understand is to use books specially written for children which deal with the subject. There are many to choose from dealing with different aspects of death from terminal illness to what happens after we die.
One interesting book on the subject of death is a German book called Duck, Death and The Tulip. The intriguing title introduces the two main characters, death in the form of a figure with a skull wearing a tartan coat and a duck, who realises that the figure is always following her around.
Familiarity between the duck and death leads to a kind of friendship which makes death seem threatening and more a part of life. The moment when the duck eventually passes away is peaceful and eases some of the shock and grief we all experience when someone dies.
Viewing death as a companion somehow makes the prospect of dying a bit less frightening.
The death of a loved one is an incredibly difficult time for friends and family. Compounding your own feelings of loss may include how to explain to a child that someone close to you has died. Parents in particular instinctively want to protect their child from pain or fear. So we often try to sugar-coat the concept of death by saying the person is ‘asleep’ or they have ‘gone away’ but this may only further confuse the child. As difficult as it may seem, it is important to provide your child with information and explanations they need to help them understand the process.
Children are incredibly resilient, at time adults don’t give them enough credit for their ability to adapt to new sets of circumstances or understand the complexities of life. By explaining things as accurately as possible, you may be preparing your child to not fear death. Of course, each particular situation is different and there care certainly instances where you may want to withhold certain graphic information if there has been a terrible accident or a criminal act has been perpetrated. But as we have been taught from a very young age ourselves, honesty is the best policy.
Here are a few suggestions for getting through this difficult situation:
• Tell children as soon as possible. Avoiding the conversation will not make it any easier, in fact it might make it more stressful
• Have someone with you to help support you and answer questions your child may have
• Find a quiet, tranquil place to tell them
• Be close to the child. They may need a hug
• Use simple words appropriate for the child’s age. Remember to use actual words like ‘death’ or ‘died’ as synonyms may get lost on the child
If you have deceased loved ones, you may want to bring the child along to the cemetery so they can understand it is a beautiful, peaceful place and not somewhere to be frightened of. Show them the memorial that has been erected and read any loving words or thoughts that have been inscribed so they see that people remember the departed fondly and with love.
At Buckley Memorial we understand what families go through in these difficult times. We are here to help make the process an easier one.