To take care of a surviving child
As it is for all cases, the best way to treat death with children is to be honest. Discuss with the child at a level that he or she can understand. Remember to listen to the child and try to understand what the child said and - what counts as much - does not say. Children need to feel that death is an open issue and that they can express their thoughts and questions as they arise. Here are some ways adults can help children cope with the death of someone who is close to them.
The primary concern of the child can be: who will take care of me now?
- Show affection and reassure the child that people who loved him or her still love the child and that they will take care of him or her.
The child will probably have many questions that he or she feels the need to ask repeatedly.
- Encourage the child to ask questions and give honest but simple answers that he or she can understand. Repeated questions require patience and continuing evidence of affection.
- You should provide answers based on the needs that the child seems to express and not the specific terms that the child uses necessarily.
The child will not know what is the appropriate behavior for the situation.
- Encourage the child to discuss his feelings and also share your feelings. You are a model of how to express the feelings. Tears are beneficial, but it does not help things when we tell a child how he or she should or shouldn’t feel.
The child may be afraid that he or she will die also or that he or she is responsible for the death.
- Reassure the child as to the cause of death and explain to him or her than any thought that he or she may have in relation to the deceased person did not cause the death.
- Reassure the child that this does not mean that another person that he or she likes is going to die soon.
The child may want to participate in the rituals of the family.
- Explain these rituals to the child and discuss with him or her in the way that will encourage participation. Remember that you should prepare the child beforehand and should tell him or her to expect. Do not force the child to do something that makes him or her feel uncomfortable.
If the child demonstrates a regressive behavior.
- A common stress response is to return to an earlier stage. For example, a child may restart thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, or having to wear a diaper or feeding from the bottle for a while. Know that this behavior is only temporary.
- Adults can help prepare a child to cope with the possible loss of a loved one by helping them cope with losses that are less significant such as sharing the feelings of the death of a pet or when discussing about death in a tale or television.
Remember the four key elements that you should use when you help a child understand death and deal with it: affection, acceptance, honesty and consistency.
Explanations that may affect
Here are a few explanations that adults sometimes provide to explain the reasons for the death of a loved one. Unfortunately, simple but dishonest answers can only increase the feelings of fear and uncertainty felt by the child. Children tend to interpret things literally. For example, if an adult says:
- Grandpa is dead because he was old and tired. Or Grandma is dead because she was old and tired. The child may wonder what will happen when he or she becomes too old to turn and, as he or she becomes tired on occasion, then... how tired do you have to be to die?
- Grandma (or Grandpa) will sleep in peace forever. This explanation can ensure that the child is afraid to lie down or sleep.
- It is the will of God. The child will not understand that God took a being because it needs that person himself, or God took him or her because he or she was good. The child may decide to be mean so that God doesn’t take him or her.
- Dad or Mom is a gone on a trip, and will not return soon. The child may wonder why Dad (or Mom) has left without saying goodbye. Eventually, the child will realize that Dad (or Mom) will not return and will believe that he or she is responsible for their departure.
- Richard (or Marianne) was sick and had to go to the Hospital where he (she) is dead. Clarify with the child what is meant by a small disease and a more serious illness, in a way that he or she isn’t afraid.
How to help a child cope with loss
- Take time to discuss with the child as soon as possible after death.
- Explain the facts to the child in an easy manner and be careful not to provide too much detail. The child will ask other questions as they arise in their minds.
- If you are unable to answer the questions of the child, it is perfectly acceptable to say: I do not know how to respond to this question, but perhaps we can find someone who will help us find the answer.
- Use appropriate language. Say the words death and dying. Do not use such expressions as he or she sleeps... or God has prevailed... or it is part...
- Explain your feelings to your kids, especially if you cry. Give them the permission to cry also. We are their pattern of behavior. It's good that children see our sadness and that we shared our feelings with them.
- Use the first name of the deceased when you talk about them.
- Be aware of the age and the level of understanding of your child and talk with them at this level.
- Discuss feelings such as anger, sadness, fear, to feel responsible for, being depressed, wanting to die, etc.
- Read a book that deals with death with your child. (See the library of the funeral home.)
- Read a book that deals with how children experience grief so that you have a better understanding of how the child may feel. (See the library of the funeral home.)
- Discuss the period of visits and funerals. Explain what is happening with these opportunities and determine if your child wants to participate with the rest of the family.
- Think of ways that the child can say farewell to the deceased, such as: write a letter, write a poem, draw a picture, etc.
- If appropriate, discuss your religious beliefs with your child and what happens to people after their death.
- Invite your child to talk with you about other issues or rumors, so you can help them get the right information.
- Discuss memories: the good memories and those who may be less good.
- Be on the lookout of behavioral changes in your child. If this raises more worries or concerns, get professional help.
- Keep an eye out for bad dreams. Are they common? Discuss dreams: this is a way to eliminate stress.
- Friends, family and classmates are often solace and comforted by participating in a special event on behalf of the deceased.
- It is particularly hard to live the mourning of a sudden death, a violent death and the death of a young person. Problems such as sleep disturbances, lack of appetite and of daily activities may be normal reactions to an abnormal or unusual event.
What is the place of children in all this?
Several parents cease to think about what they will do to children when a loved one dies. Most probably wondered who will look after them during the funeral. If we exclude children from the funeral, this will delay their mourning and will hinder their ability to cope with death and loss later in their lives. Here are practical suggestions that have proven useful.
- Give an opportunity to the children to make a drawing of a happy memory they have of the deceased. You may file this drawing in the coffin or urn.
- Ask the child to write a letter to the deceased. This provides them with the opportunity to say I love you one last time and say goodbye. Drop this letter in the coffin or urn.
- A child can buy or pick flowers and place them in the coffin or near the urn.
- Older children can act as Honorary pallbearers or read a text chosen at the funeral. They could act as ushers at the funeral.
- You will find it very useful to take the time to explain to children what are the funerals and what will happen. Bring them to the funeral during visits for the purpose of making them comfortable in this environment. In addition, this will make the day of the funeral much easier for them.