How to Talk to Your Kids About Death – Guest Post by Erin Garay

Let’s face it. Grief is tough for anyone. Children feel it the same way we feel it, sometimes even heavier because they just don’t have the cognitive strength yet to process all they are feeling. Parents who are grieving the loss of a loved one understand first-hand what it means to feel their heart break outside of their body. It magnifies our own pain to watch grief manifest itself in our children. With two daughters, I had to find some effective ways to help my family heal after the loss of my mom and these are a few of my very best recommendations.
How to Talk to Your Kids About Death

  1. ASK OPEN ENDED QUESTIONS AND REPEAT THEM– Ask your child an open-ended question, “How are you feeling?” Listen to their response and repeat their response back to them. “Oh, you felt sad?” This reassures them that they are being heard, and it will help the conversation to unfold.
  2. WATCH FOR THE DRIVE BY- Kids who are upset will run through the kitchen while you’re cooking and ask a drive-by question- “Hey, my “friend” said you were going to die. When are you going to die?” It’s too difficult for a child to sit down and have a conversation about grief with you. Your child will run through and throw out something that is really bothering them. Catch them and bring them back. This is a very important question to answer and doesn’t require a lot of time. A great response is, “Well, we all know that no one lives forever.”
  3. PROBABILITY VS. POSSIBILITY + BALANCE- A great follow-up to the “no one lives forever” comment is to have a conversation about what is probable vs. what is possible. “Yes, it is possible that I could die tomorrow, but it is probable that I will not. It’s also possible that we could get in the car and go to Disneyland tomorrow, but it is probable that we will not.” Giving them a negative and positive circumstance helps them to balance the reality of this perspective. Given your faith preference, you can also add that you can “live in faith and trust in God’s plan” if that is appropriate for you.
  4. KEEP ANSWERING QUESTIONS- For children, grief is similar to throwing a 500 piece puzzle up into the air and pieces will continue to fall down for years. Like a puzzle, each piece may not necessarily fit together until you have a few more of the pieces. Even though you feel like you’ve answered your child’s question, “Was Grandma sick?” “Did she love me?” a million times, keep answering. They’re just putting their own puzzle together, and they won’t be able to heal and move on until they’ve put together all of the pieces.
  5. GIVE THEM SOMETHING THEY CAN CONTROL- Losing someone faces us with a harsh reality that we are not in control. Give your child something that he or she can control. This is where the concept of the Angel Birthday party came into our lives. After my mom died, we needed a way for my daughters to feel in control of something, so we had them:
    • Color in a Happy Angel Birthday poster to hang up around the house
    • Bake a Happy Angel Birthday Cake, light candles and sing Happy Angel Birthday loud enough for the angels to hear
    • Make memory boxes for her keepsakes to serve as “the gifts” for the party
    • Write messages on eco-friendly, helium-filled balloons and send them up to the heavens

It was so great for them to feel in control of something during a time that just felt out of control. They felt important and it was so healing for them to be a part of something that honored someone that they loved very much, too.
Remember…Grief is tough no matter what age. After completing the above list, just make sure you hug your children… A LOT. You both probably need it!
How to Talk to Your Kids About Death

Erin is the author of Angel Birthdays, a positive healing children’s book that is redefining the day we lose a loved one. Angel Birthday party printouts are available on www.angelbirthdays.com

 

 

 

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