Thursday, March 12, 2015

Less Is More When Discussing Death with Children

When a child asks, "What happens when someone dies?" there is no need for parents to stumble over answers. Many feel insecure because (1) Few of us really know what happens; we accept our concept based on faith not fact. (2) They don't want to frighten their child. (3) They aren't certain if they should be truthful - or if they should use a "feel good" explanation, whether they believe it or not..  A common error is to over-explain the concept of death and dying - which makes it less likely your child will understand  or be reassured by it.

This should not be complicated. All of these concerns are met by saying,  “No one knows for sure what happens when someone dies, but the people in our family or religion or cultural group believe that …” and then say what you really believe. This answer is honest and protects against confusion if another trusted person says something different,  Your child can make her own decisions when she gets older.

Dying is as natural as being born and both can occur at unexpected or inconvenient times.. Discussions should be concise, age appropriate, and accommodate your child's personality. When discussing the loss of a loved one, expressing sadness but not fear is appropriate. It may also be important to stress that you and your child are safe.When a death was unexpected or occurred under tragic circumstances, discuss the concept of death and this occurrence separately.

Honesty is important.  Most of us accept a variant of three basic themes: Biological: “Wherever I was before I was born is where I will be after I die.” Reward and punishment afterlife: “Good people go to heaven; bad people go to hell” And a forgiving afterlife: “God takes us all to a pleasant place where we will be at peace forever.”  Any of these will be understood my all but the youngest children.

Explaining the process of dying is a bit trickier. Guard against equating death with age or illness. You don't want your child to conclude that everyone who is old or sick is about to die. “Life” is an abstract concept that is difficult to put into words. Yes, your brain and heart stop working and you might look like you are in a deep sleep. But life represents a form of energy (physical or spiritual),which provides an opportunity to use an example your child can easily understand: “Many of your toys have batteries that make them run. When the battery wears out, the toy stops working. The same thing happens to people except that the battery can’t be replaced. Luckily most of us have batteries that last for a very very long time.”

Should your child attend a funeral? The answer depends on age, maturity, and custom. A good rule of thumb is that if you would allow your child to attend a happy event that requires similar demeanor (like a wedding), the child can attend a funeral unless there is strong family objection. In many cases. young children can provide a welcome distraction for those who are grieving. Children are more likely to be curious than frightened and it sets a valuable precedent that your family shares both happy and sad occasions together. Not everything in life is fun. And a healthy exposure to happy and sad creates realistic expectations for the future. I was very resentful when I was away at summer camp and my parents did not tell me that my grandfather died because they didn't want to" spoil my summer.” I held a grudge for many years because I thought it was disrespectful to me and to my grandfather. Don’t make a similar mistake.

No comments:

Post a Comment