Handling The Subject Of Death With Your Children.
Handling The Subject Of Death With Your Children.
How do you do it? How should it be done? We know death is a very touchy subject. We don’t want to scare kids, but we want to educate them. So how do we go about doing this in a sensible fashion?
For me, I believe honesty is the only policy. I can allow little white lies for the Easter bunny and Santa, but I don’t try and skate around the subject of death, or tell any fibs about it. I tell it as I believe it to be. Our spirits go up to heaven, a place where there is no sadness, hurt, or pain.
A place where we reunite with all of our lost loved ones, and will one day reunite with those still on Earth. It’s not what everyone believes, but I’m not trying to argue religion here, It’s just what I was raised to believe in the Christian faith.
I have thought a lot about this subject lately many times being that:
A) My children have a grandmother who is 88. I lost my own at 10 and it was devastating to me. She was like my mother, father, and best friend in one person. Nobody told me she was sick. Supposedly she was going to be fine, or so I was told. When she passed I was shocked and in heavy, heavy denial. No one spoke of death or prepared me in any way. I really wish that they had.
My mother and father were never talkers. They never once approached the subject of neither death or sex, or anything big at all for that matter, which was a very bad thing for us. I vowed never to do the same, regardless of how it hard it might be.
B) Learning I have high blood pressure and having to go on medication made me think about mortality. Not to mention the several panic attacks I had where I thought for sure I was having a heart attack and would die. I realized WOW life can turn that way at any moment. I’m also accident prone. I should be dead ten times over, which makes you think as well.
C) Losing a son nearly a decade old, having him in my life all that time and having him one day get taken away from me. Nothing brought the subject of death more near to me. It’s a harsh and terrible reality of life, but I found the only way to survive such a loss is to mourn, and then eventually stop crying and remember to celebrate the person you loved and lost.
I had to have a talk with my son who was devastated of course by the loss of his brother when he was 8 and 1/2. That was about the hardest thing I ever had to do. And to watch him wear his brother’s clothes after his passing, and hang out in his room to be closer to him. It took such a long time. It was heart breaking for us all.
Grief is a process. You have to allow yourself and others to FEEL, and that is what I tell my kids most. Never deny your feelings. Back then I just dealt with everything like a kid in denial. I pushed it all under the rug. ‘I’m fine. All is ok.’ Always smiled, laughed, and joked. No, it’s not the way to go. I believe honesty and the grieving process is SO important.
So if I am asked a question..I’ll answer it. If a situation calls for a talk on something serious..I DO IT. Nothing is kept in the closet ,so to speak, in my home. Not the way I grew up.
What the pro in me says after having loved & lost many times before.
During childhood & after childhood was through.
1. It’s ok to feel sad.
If a death occurs, and beforehand even, tell your children it’s alright to feel and to cry. It’s healthy to. Never lock up emotions and try and be strong for anybody. (I’ve been there too many times. It’s NOT good.) There are stages of grief that need to be moved through to find healing and peace. Encourage both your children and yourself to move through those stages.
2. Never fear death.
I had such a fear of death as a child. For myself, and for members of my family. I don’t know if it was because it wasn’t talked about, or I was just a chronic over-thinker, but let your children know that death is not the end, but don’t talk about death to the point where they will be thinking about it all the time. That is no way to live. Be smart about it.
3. Don’t lie to your children thinking they cannot handle the subject.
If this occurs, then resentment and anger may follow. No sugarcoating. I mean if someone suffered before passing there is no need to go there, but just don’t say things like, ‘Grandma went on vacation for awhile’, etc. I believe in honesty with kids because they CAN handle more then you give them credit for, but do things at an age appropriate level.
No need to get overly detailed with a smaller child. Say what needs to be said, but never too much. You as a parent can pretty much gauge that for yourself. If you need to add anything to your older kids, take them aside and talk to them on their own.
4. Look towards the future.
Remember the past but don’t stay stuck living in it. This goes for us adults and we have to somehow translate this point to our children. Living in the past is an awful and traumatic thing. You want your children to remember their lost loved one(s), but to move through the stages of grief, not find themselves stuck in them for years and years, not able to press forward with their lives.
It’s very hard to move on from a loss, especially if it’s a very close one. I personally do this by encouraging my own belief system that YES..we will see each other, or Aunt Maggie, or whomever the case may be, again. These people are still with us in spirit watching over us, and that it’s alright to move on…they want us to. But moving on in a healthy way does not mean we have to forget.
Some coping mechanisms of mine are writing out my feelings on paper. Poetry, journal entries, keeping a diary. Encourage your child to write if he or she is old enough, especially if they find writing easier then talking. Both are therapeutic. I have found writing to be an amazing outlet since about age 11.
If it’s a close loss within the family, maybe not drag your child or children to a tombstone, but go to the park and let balloons fly on a birthday. I even buy birthday cake. It makes me feel closer to my son, and it celebrates life, not replays the pain of death.
After the stages of grief are over, you as a parent need to decide how you will or won’t honor the memory of your lost loved ones with your own children. Don’t ever sweep it under the rug. That is my biggest piece of advice here.
5. Communication and honesty.
I humbly believe in both of these things. My parents used to ‘white lie’ to me a lot and I suffered for it. These were times they would rather avoid the topic then help me cope and grow from the experience. I felt like I couldn’t even trust my own parents. I vowed to never make the same mistakes.
I also believe communication (and lots of it) is key. Don’t ever shut your child out because they may not come to you for help ever again. If they are feeling or thinking about something, make yourself completely accessible to them. Sit down in a quiet setting and give your child the attention and the answers they deserve, just again.. do it on an age appropriate level.
Know that talking ALWAYS helps regardless of age, and lack there of always causes problems in one way or another. There was no communication in my home. I suffered for it, got therapy to learn how to ‘feel’ and ‘cope’, but my brother? He still suffers.
Our mom never used to cry. Nor dad either when I think about it. She said when I asked why, that she ran out of tears she cried so much as a kid/ teen/ young adult. She didn’t have any tears left. The day she got the news that grandma died, she dropped the phone and ran into her room locking the door. I’ll never forget it. Also, she used to tickle us when we’d cry. We had our emotions all screwed up.
6. There is help and resources out there.
When you just don’t know where else to turn and what you should do, there are many great books available as resources on the subject. Here are some really great ones.
Many books about handling the subject of death with kids. (Click link.)
Also, remember this is a subject all parents have to handle at one point or another with their children. You are NEVER alone in it. Find a support group or message board online. You can be anonymous. Talking to others in similar situations at the same time, or those who have been there before, I find particularly soothing to chat with. You can find such resources all over the Internet.
If you are trying to cope unsuccessfully, or your child is having a really hard time there is absolutely, completely, ZERO shame in therapy if needed. This is usually warranted in a particularly close, possibly traumatic loss. I admit to years of therapy, and I know I turned out for the better because of it. Therapy can be such a blessing!
Death, loss, grief, it’s all a part of life. How you handle it with your own kids is always your call as a parent, but I hope my advice can help make it a bit easier.
Where there is love & support, there is healing. – Mama P.
Good luck, and thanks for stopping by!