How to talk to your child about death

It’s hard to talk about death when your family is experiencing the loss of a loved one. It is especially hard when there are kids in the family. But talking about death with your kids is inevitable. In the unfortunate event of losing a relative, kids need an adult to help them reflect on the meaning of their emotions. A conversation must take place.

But before talking to your children about the loss, there will first be a time for mourning and celebrating the life of your loved one. Funeral homes – such as the Seattle-based American Cremation & Casket Alliance – will offer guidance on making the funeral as comfortable as possible for your children.

After mourning, there will be the time for healing. This is when you and your family will need to talk about your emotions, and adjust to them. When the time comes to talk to your child about the loss, you may fear making scary parenting mistakes that could confuse or mislead your child.

It’s understandable to be concerned about broaching the topic. Death can be hard to talk about with anyone, especially with your son or daughter. But this conversation is too important to skip. If you keep a few simple things in mind, you can offer him or her the exact opportunity they need to discuss and understand their feelings.

Firstly, know that kids are far more emotionally resilient than you think. Let go of your fears and reservations. Any emotional rawness you are feeling needs to be addressed first. It’s important to enter the conversation with a sense of certainty and comfort about the conversation you are about to have with your child.

If you don’t approach the talk from a healthy place emotionally, you could be “vulnerable to either being numb to their pain [or] trying to block them from showing it,” reported an article in Psychology Today on helping children deal with loss.

When you are in a healthy position to have the conversation, it’s time to initiate the talk with your child. Some children will be shy to talk about the lost loved one. Giving your child space is a fine temporary strategy, as long as it is not a way to avoid the conversation altogether.

Once you’ve started the conversation, you will want to remember to also ask your child questions. It’s necessary to answer his or her questions as honestly and as openly as possible. But your child will need more than just information. They will also have emotions they will not know how to manage or interpret. That’s where your questions become useful.

Finally, there may be big questions you can’t answer for your child or are not ready to answer until your child is older. Professionals say the worst thing you can do in that case is lie or use euphemisms to explain death (such as sleeping or going on vacation). The best way to respond to these questions is to simply be honest. It’s okay to tell your child you don’t know the answer to a question, or you want to answer a question when they are a bit older.

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