- How and when should a parent or guardian tell a child about death before they have to experience it?
A: When it comes to children there is not a specific time when it’s best to talk to a child about death. There are “teachable moments”, however. For example, a “teachable moment” is when your child’s class pet dies, when the leaves fall off the trees in the fall, or when the local, regional, national news reports the death of a celebrity, or when a character from a movie or book dies. Real death does not have to happen for a teachable moment to occur. A “teachable moment” depends upon your child’s age and maturity level.
The easiest way for a parent or guardian to go about discussing death with a child is to be direct. Explain to your child that everything that lives must one day die, and then correlate the future death to whatever your “teachable moment” happens to be. It is important to explain to your child that people and other living things can live for a long time, and that they do not have to be afraid of someone dying.
- What are the primary materials available for parents and guardians to teach children about the death and grieving process they will experience when someone they love has died?
A: There is a plethora of age-specific teaching materials available to parents and guardians to educate children about death. Our local library has books about death and the grieving process available to the public. Some of these books have appropriate stories about children that have lost a loved one. Other books answer common questions that parents and guardians have about helping children learn about death and the grieving process. Anyone wanting more information may also contact us at Parrott & Ramsey Funeral Home for recommendations. We have easy to read printed materials that discuss children and the grief process that we will share with you. Additionally, you should visit the New Leaf Resources website. In addition to articles about this subject, you can find books available through the online store.
- Are members of your staff available to meet with churches and community groups who would like to know more about how children grieve and how their organization can assist families with children prior to and at their time of need?
A: Absolutely, we are constantly asked by community organizations to conduct these types of programs. Anytime an organization wants a representative from Parrott & Ramsey Funeral Home to talk to them about how their organization can assist families with children at the time of a death, as well as educating children about death and the grief process before a loved one dies, we’d be more than happy to work with them to arrange a date and time.
- How do children of different ages and maturity levels perceive death?
A: Children of various ages and maturity levels perceive death very differently. Three to five: Children believe that death is when someone goes away on a journey, or is taking a long nap. Pre-school children do not understand the finality of death. Five to Ten: Once children reach the age of five-years-old until they are about ten, they understand death is final. They do not understand that death can happen to them or the people around them. Ten and older: By the time children reach the age of ten, they understand the finality of death and that it inevitably will happen to everyone they know including themselves.
- Who should tell children that someone they love has died, and how?
A: Unless it is the parents or primary caregivers who have died, then the parents or the primary care givers should be responsible for telling their children that someone they love has died. In the situation that it is the primary caregiver(s) who have died, then a relative or close family friend should communicate with the children about the death. The person making the announcement should take the child into a private room, and explain “your aunt has died, and that means his heart has stopped working. She cannot talk anymore, and she will not be able to eat or even watch television anymore.” Be honest about the person dying. Avoid telling children that someone has gone on a long journey, or is taking a nap. Children assume that this means that the person will eventually come back, or that they have been abandoned. Once children have been told about the death of someone they love, it will then be time for you to sit back, listen, and answer questions. Children are naturally curious, and therefore, many questions will be asked. Listening to the questions that are asked will help you to recognize their level of understanding about death.
- How do children normally respond when they learn that someone they love has died?
A: There are various ways in which children react to death. It depends upon the cause of death, as well as the age and maturity level of the children. If a child loses a parent or grandparent to cancer, they may show signs of frustration. If a teenager’s friend commits suicide, the teenager may become very angry. If a parent dies after the child has a big argument with the parent, the child might express feelings of guilt and responsibility. Children are not any different than adults when it comes to expressing their emotions: some children scream, some cry, and others become silent. There are many ways a person can react to death. The child’s reaction can possibly depend upon previous life experiences with death. Children will act out their emotions in their own way. It will be the care givers responsibility to make sure that children are comforted as they act out their grief.
- Should children attend visitations and funeral services?
A: For children older than two-years, attending a funeral is very important. Funerals are for the survivors. It is a time when people, including children, can begin the grieving process. People who attend funerals have an opportunity to see other people experiencing similar emotions because they, too, have lost someone they love. It is extremely helpful for a child to see that they are not the only person who has experienced the loss of someone they love. At Parrott & Ramsey Funeral Home, we have found that children who do not attend the funeral have a much more difficult time initiating the grief process than those that do attend the funeral service. In fact, many of these children will not start to grieve until a significant moment occurs and their family member or friend is not available to share it with them. These children typically have greater difficulty concentrating on school work, participating in after-school and neighborhood activities, and may end up becoming involved with drugs or alcohol. So, for the sake of helping your child, encourage them to attend the funeral. Most children are too young to understand the consequences of not attending. As the adult, help make the this ritual as easy as possible for children.
- How can parents or guardians help children experience their grief, especially when they too are likely to be in mourning?
A: The most important thing parents or guardians can do to help children experience grief is to experience it with them. So often parents forget that they are not the only ones who have lost someone they love, their children have also lost someone significant in their lives. Be available to your children to talk about the feelings you are experiencing, and ask them how they feel about losing grandma or grandpa. There are many projects a parent or guardian can work on with their children to open the door to discussion about the person who has died. Parents could help their children put together a scrapbook in memory of grandma, or perhaps write down memories of grandma in a journal. If a child is too young to write, but can use a crayon, have the child draw a picture of a special moment with grandma. These are all productive, non-threatening activities children can do. These activities can also be healing to adults. Whatever a parent does, they should not tell a child that they know how they feel. Parents do not know how their child feels, no one does. If a parent is too emotionally upset to talk when the child is ready to talk about the deceased, it is better to tell the child that you want to talk to them about their feelings but right now you are too upset. Make sure that the child understands that you are not pushing him or her away. If you are absolute too emotional to spend time talking with your child, make sure that a close family member or friend is available to help you help your child. Then, when you have had some time to grieve, you will be able to begin talking with your child about both of your feelings. The most important thing is that both you and your child are able to get the help you need to experience the grief process.