Coping: Helping Children Deal With Death And Dying

Coping with the dying and death is not easy for children. How to handle the subject of death and dying with your child. An honest, matter of fact, sensitive approach that works.

Death is the natural culmination of life. Children need to learn about death, hopefully, before it claims someone close to them. How do you counsel your child about the realities of death and dying? If you take an honest, frank, but sensitive approach, both you and your child will benefit greatly.

Take advantage of natural occurrences around you. As the leaves begin to fall off the trees, talk about the changes in the seasons. Relate this to the stages of human life. We are born, we grow, we blossom, we reproduce, we age, and then eventually, we die. This does not have to be a scary conversation. If you keep the conversational tone even and forthright, you can assure your child that this is just the natural way life proceeds. Discuss in general terms what would happen to the Earth, if the old did not die to make way for the new.

The old do not go to sleep to make room for the new, so avoid referring to death as "going to sleep forever." This can lead to nightmares and instill a fear of sleeping in your child. Your child may actually be afraid of going to sleep and never waking back up again. Euphemisms should really be avoided all together. If you say that someone has "gone away," then your child is likely to believe that they may be coming back sometime soon. If you say that someone has gone away and will never be back, then your child may never want you to go anywhere again. If you shouldn't use euphemisms, then how can you soften the subject of death for your child?



Talk about death much like you would talk about sex with your child. Tell your child only as much as he or she seems to need to know. Answer his/her questions honestly. Use the proper terminology. Pets that die often provide parents with an opportunity to discuss death with their children.

If a cherished pet dies, do not try to replace it immediately. This robs your child of the necessary closure that grieving provides. It also cheapens the value of the deceased pet. Let your child grieve. Comfort your child. Bury the pet together, or have a small family service for the pet. Wait a while before looking for a new pet. Be sure your child has had a chance to say his/her good-byes to the old pet. This is as important as letting your child grieve for a family member or for a friend.

Before your child is faced with a painful good-bye to a family member or a friend, prepare your child for the inevitable. Discuss the life cycle of humans in terms of your own family. Let your child know that everyone dies. Tell your child that people generally live to be from sixty to one hundred years old. Explain that most people live long enough to become grandparents. Point to your child's grandparents, as examples of this. If your child asks if that means his/her grandparents are going to die soon, answer honestly. Tell your child that more than likely, first his/her grandparents will die. Tell your child that you will probably die next, but not for many, many years to come. Tell your child that you will probably be a grandparent by that time, yourself. Explain that your child will be an adult with a spouse and family of his/her own by this time. Be sure that your child understands that he/she will not be left alone. Discuss how people come together at funerals, to show those that have lost a loved one that they are not alone.

If you must attend a funeral, then you will have to decide whether or not to take your child. You will be the best judge of whether or not to do this. If you choose to let your child attend, never ever force your child to visit the casket, unless he or she wants to do so. For some children, this is just exactly what they need for closure. For others, this can be too traumatic. You know your child best. It will be up to you to decide whether or not your child can handle, or needs to attend the funeral.

It will also be up to you to comfort your child after the loss of a loved one. Depending upon your religious belief system, this comfort may take many forms. You may choose to tell your child that his/her pet or lost loved one is now in heaven. You may not believe this, nor choose to share this idea with your child. You can let your child know that a special part of all of our loved ones stays in our hearts and in our memories, if we focus on the joy that they brought to us during their lifetimes.

Whatever approach you decide to take, be sure to discuss death and dying with your child. It is a natural part of the human life cycle. One of the worst things for a child to deal with is the unknown. If you prepare your child for the inevitability of death, then he/she will handle it much better when he/she is faced with it.

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