Death is challenging to understand, and some would argue that there is no understanding of it. Even though you may struggle to understand the passing of a loved one, your child may struggle in ways you might not know. Here are some strategies for discussing death with your child in a developmentally appropriate way.
Before you begin discussing death with your child, you have to prepare, be ready, and be in a space to talk about it yourself. Knowing when to have the talk and what may happen during this discussion is an important first step before diving into discussion strategies. So be prepared first and foremost.
Understanding Cognitive Ability
Depending on your child’s age, they may understand death as a concept, but not in a concrete way.
For example, some children may understand that death happens to everyone, but they may not believe that some people die, like themselves or their parents. In addition, they may believe that bad behavior or unrealistic events cause death. Ask them what their understanding of death is so that you can understand what grasp they have of the concept.
It would help if you asked questions like:
- Do you know how or why people die?
- Do you know who dies?
- What do you think happens after you die?
Introducing the Concept
There are different ways you can introduce an understanding of death once your child fully acquires the concept. Children’s books are a fantastic way to teach and discuss death with your child in a controlled environment. Movies and cartoons with characters that pass away are also great avenues for discussion. It’s a safe way to take a pause and ask them what they think and how it makes them feel.
Make sure that whatever media you use to introduce the concept is developmentally appropriate. They don’t need to see a gruesome passing to understand the idea. Most children can understand metaphorical deaths if given an explanation.
Children will process their emotions in a completely different way. They may lash out or feel guilty for what’s happened. Therefore, it’s essential to stay calm and be the rock in their storm to build emotional literacy. Let them know that you’re there, and you’ll still be there for them once they calm down.
The same applies if your child tends to shut down and internalize. Don’t make your anxiety about their anxiety your child’s problem.
In terms of discussing death, use these emotions as teachable moments to show them that these feelings are OK; it’s a part of processing them. In addition, it’s important to be vulnerable and show them that their guardians and protectors may get sad.
These strategies for discussing death with your child are great if you’re in the right headspace. If you’re struggling and don’t feel like you can give them the space they need to develop this understanding, don’t be angry at yourself for it. It may be best to seek counseling for you and your child.
Featured Image Credit: Eye For Ebony
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