How Can I Prepare My Child For a Loved One’s Death?Kenny Scott | Aug 17, 2016 | Child bereavement
Are you uncertain of how to prepare a child for the imminent death of a loved one?
When it comes to losing a loved one (be it a family member or close friend), it can be incredibly difficult to figure out how you’re going to help your child cope – especially whilst you’re still coming to terms with impending grief of your own.
You may be worried about causing unnecessary upset by explaining in the wrong way, or if they’re particularly young, perhaps you’re concerned they just won’t be able to understand.
Below, I’ve used my own experience as a counsellor helping children through the various stages of bereavement, to provide some tips on how you can best prepare your child for the death of a loved one.
How to explain to a child about death
When it comes to understanding death, your child may at first feel scared, worried, or unsure of what is happening. They may ask questions such as ‘Did I cause this? Am I going to die, too? Are other people going to die? Will it hurt?’
It’s important not to talk about death as if the loved one is sleeping, as that can be particularly scary for younger children. They might get confused and become frightened that they will die in their sleep, which will lead to them trying to avoid sleep at all.
Instead, explain that we all need our bodies to live, and when our body becomes ill and medicine doesn’t make it better, it will eventually stop working. And when your body isn’t working anymore, it means your body has died.
I find this approach generally works for children of all ages, as death is so confusing, it’s best to just keep things very matter-of-fact and straightforward.
As an example, I once helped the relatives of a 5-year-old boy explain that his mummy had died, and he said: “Okay.” I asked him if he knew what that meant, and he replied: “Nope.”
I then explained about how she had been very ill and her body wasn’t working anymore, so we couldn’t see her or spend time with her anymore, and that’s why everyone was very sad.
Be open and encourage questions
Answering questions as honestly as you can is the best way to ensure your child is prepared for the changes to come. Doing so will mean they will learn to trust you, and they won’t be scared when they know what to expect.
Encouraging questions and being open with your child about death will allow them to form other questions to ask you – usually in their own time. You may not always have the answers, but it’s okay to say you don’t know – it’s also sometimes appropriate to say: “But I think that…”
At this stage, all children deal with the concept of death differently. Your child may appear upset, or may not. Sometimes it can be just too much to process, and takes longer for the tears to come. If your child is very upset, that’s okay; they are just trying to process what they are learning.
In some cases, your child may still not acknowledge that death is final, and may continue asking where the relative or loved one is, in which case you should reiterate that the person has died and will not come back. In all cases, keep comforting the child and talking to them.
I hope this blog has been helpful when explaining the difficult subject of death to your child. Remember, it may take your child a little longer to process the information, but as long as you are honest, open and answer their questions as best you can, they will be able to come to terms with their grief.
There are many helpful resources out there, from books to counsellors, that may be able to guide you further, and I wish you all the best on your journey.
If you’re looking for ideas for what to do with your loved one’s ashes, you’re welcome to read our ebook: ‘6 Things You Can Do With Your Loved One’s Ashes’.