Why children need to talk about dying

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Thu 2 Mar 2017 - posted by Willen Hospice

We can't protect children from death. They encounter it all the time – whether it’s a mouse brought in by the cat or a grandparent dying.

At an early age they can form their own beliefs around it. And although by the age of eight, many children understand that death is permanent and happens to everyone, it can still be a struggle to get to grips with the idea, as it is for many adults.

Talking about death and dying isn’t easy when you feel you don’t have the answers. But trying is far better than ignoring the question – you are letting the child know that it is okay to ask. Children are never too young to talk about death and dying, use any opportunities that arise and take your cues from the questions they ask, you cannot make the situation worse by trying to answer their questions.

  • Talk about death as a part of life and how life and death go together.

  • Use the natural world to demonstrate the way in which things die – flowers withering, leaves falling.

  • Use books to help with discussions about dying, there are many which cover this subject.

  • The death if a pet can be an opportunity to start a conversation about dying. Let the child be there when it is buried, and carry out rituals like planting flowers.

  • If they want to, let children come to funerals- they are a way of saying goodbye to the person who has died. Tell them what to expect.

Remember:

You cannot stop children from feeling sad – but you can support them by listening and talking.

Even if you don’t know what to say, it is better to address the subject than ignore it.

Children will know if you try to hide the truth from them.

Children understand words very literally, and you may need to check they haven’t misunderstood, for example: “Granny passed away” which sounds as if she may come back. “People only die when they get old” – which is untrue. “I’m sorry you’ve lost your grandmother” – which sounds as if she might be found somewhere. Or  “Granny has gone to sleep” – which makes sleep sound dangerous.

Memory boxes can be a good way of helping children remember loved ones who have died.

Taken from dying matters via the national council for palliative care.

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