Children and Grief
Parents often wonder if they should include their children in discussions of loss, worried that the youngsters may be too young to fully understand the experience—or too sensitive to cope. Yet death is a part of life, and grief is part of the human experience. Excluding your child can make them feel as if their emotions are less valid than your own. Talking to your kids about grief is an important part of healing.
To create a positive experience, it’s essential to prepare your child before attending a funeral. Let your child know what to expect, and talk about what will happen. Remind them that it’s okay to cry, to remember, to tell stories, and to laugh. If the child does not want to attend, try to find out why—but give them the option to stay home if they with, and arrange to have a close family member care for them.
The way you prepare your child may depend on what type of service you’re planning.
- If the child is going to see an open casket, talk about what they might see, and what the room might look like.
- If you will be attending a burial, explain the burial process.
- If you’re having a church service, walk them through the process. Let them know that you will be going to church, then to a cemetery.
- If you’ve chosen cremation, try to spend some time with the body before cremation. Talk to your child about cremation. (You might want to emphasize that cremation doesn’t hurt the body because it can no longer feel pain.)
With kids, open communication, patience, and understanding foster a positive experience, but participation is key. Help your child write a letter or draw a picture to put in the casket or help them choose flowers to bring to the service. Including children helps them to accept the reality of death and start the process of letting go.
Finally, remind your child that some people think about death as a birth, the new birth of the spirit. Like a caterpillar transforming into a beautiful butterfly, your loved one’s spirit has moved on to a new and different life.
How to Handle Concerns
If problems arise when talking to a child, be patient, and listen to what they have to say. Answer as many questions as you can, while remaining aware that sometimes the answer is “I don’t know.” Also be aware of comments coming from others in the family or community, since conflicting information could cause confusion.
Grief affects children differently than adults, and they might become afraid of separation or appear to act “younger” than their age. You may want to guide the child toward appropriate behavior, and make suggestions about how to effectively communicate grief. In addition, students may have difficulty with their schoolwork, because remembering and following thought processes becomes more difficult when someone is working through grief.