Helping children understand death

By Valerie
March 5, 2015

I think it’s safe to say, “Death isn’t easy to deal with at any age.” So how do you explain it to your three-year-old?

How do you comfort your eight-year-old when their grandparent dies? How comfortable are you with the whole concept of death? What are you beliefs regarding after-life, if any? How do you ensure the memory of your loved one is honoured in day-to-day life?

When I was seven years old, My Bobba J died suddenly of a heart attack on a busy street. We saw the sirens go by as we were coming home from school only to hear the news a mere two hours later. My memories are patchy – staying up late for Bobba’s wake, running around the funeral parlour, eating little finger sandwiches and drinking tea from fancy cups, being upset that Bobba was “dead” and uncertain about what that meant exactly, watching my brother poke his eyes to make himself cry and feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of people at Bobba’s funeral service.

How a child copes with the death of a grandparent depends on many factors, including:

Children express grief in different ways. Some will be sad or angry. Others may be fearful of another grandparent or parent dying. With the wisdom gained that people die, some children develop feelings of insecurity. Others want to understand what happens to the person who they loved, what it feels like to be dead and where one goes after death.

Death and dying are complex concepts that are understood by children at progressive intervals. Open and honest discussions are important however, the language needs to be appropriate for your child’s age.
To help a child cope with a loss requires a consistent and loving message and observing your child’s reactions.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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