Discussing Death with Children

I was six years of age when my uncle died. Although I don’t think I had ever met my uncle, I saw the way his death affected my parents, and my “safe little world” suddenly seemed less secure. I remember my mother taking the time to talk with me about what had taken place, and giving me reassurance and comfort.

Death is an unsettling topic for people, adults no less than children. Perhaps because of their own fears or unease, many parents feel apprehensive about discussing death with their children. But death is an inescapable fact of life. It touches every family at some point. To function in good and healthy ways, it is important for parents to process our own thoughts and feelings about death, and help their children to deal with it as a life reality. This includes letting our children know that it’s OK for them to talk about it with us.

Here is some advice for discussing the topic with kids:

  • Use clear and concise words and avoid euphemisms as much as possible. Small children, in particular, will struggle to understand abstract language. Checking to see if a child has understood what has been said is critical.
  • Consider the maturity of your child. Telling a child too much may cause distress, but not telling them enough may also cause issues.
  • Let your child know that expressing emotions and asking questions is natural and OK.
  • Do not avoid your child’s questions. Avoidance may only heighten their anxiety. Each question deserves a simple and relevant answer.
  • Don’t be concerned if you are not able to answer every question. It is better to say “I don’t know” than to give a misleading response.
  • Remember that children often realize much more than we give them credit for, and that their ability to cope often exceeds our expectations.

For Christians, discussions about death will always be shaped by the hope we have through Jesus.  He has conquered death, and gives the promise of resurrection to eternal life to all who place their faith in him. Like all others, Christians can and should grieve for their loved ones, but not without a sense of hope. Because of Jesus, death is not the end, and as living Lord he comforts us in our grief … whatever age we may be.

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