Whether it’s their first hamster or a parent that dies, sooner or later children have to learn about death. It can be very difficult to explain and you may have to answer some tough questions. Here are some tips to help you.
Here for you and your family when you need us. So contact us now and let us take care of all your needs.
Helping Children Understand Death
How To Break The News
The news of the death should be broken by someone the child is close to and trusts. The child should be told as soon and as straightforwardly as possible.
Don’t use the phrase “fell asleep” that you see on many gravestones, or the child may become afraid of going to bed or letting their parents sleep in case they die too. The expression also doesn’t convey that the person won’t be coming back: sleep is temporary but death isn’t, and it’s important to help the child understand the difference.
The dead person hasn’t “gone away” either. The expression either gives a false sense of hope that the person may come back or leaves the child feeling abandoned, neither of which is helpful. And next time someone close to them goes away, even to the shops, the child will worry about them ever coming home. “Passed” or “passed over” is no better: passed (over) what? Much better to use plain words that they and their friends can understand, rather than puzzle them with euphemisms.
The child may want to know why people (or hamsters) have to die. Explain that dying is a natural part of living, just as much as being born is. Everything has to die: even trees that have lived for hundreds of years die eventually. When people get too old or ill, their bodies wear out and they die.
What Happens After Someone Dies?
Explain that when people die their body is like an empty shell: they don’t need it any more. Some people believe that the spirit of the person goes to heaven or comes back in another body; other people believe that the spirit dies with the body. It’s important to make sure the child knows that the spirit doesn’t become a ghost and hang about waiting to scare people.
If the child has never buried a dead pet, you’ll need to tell them about coffins and funerals. This needn’t be scary. A coffin is just a special box for a body, and a funeral is when we say goodbye to the body and the person who used to live in it. The funeral may be held in a church or a crematorium, and the child will probably see lots of people there that they don’t know, who have come to say goodbye at the same time and show how much they liked the person who died.
If the body is to be cremated, and the child knows that means the body will be burnt, it is important to make it clear that dead bodies don’t feel anything. If the child doesn’t know, just say that the body is being turned into ashes, so that they are prepared for when the ashes are scattered or they see a small urn instead of the coffin they saw at the funeral.
Will I Go To The Funeral?
Whether the child attends the funeral or not will depend on how much they understand and whether they want to go. If they’re very young it may be better for them not to go: they won’t understand but will pick up on all the unhappiness and may disrupt proceedings by crying loudly throughout.
If they’re older, the ceremony may help them understand a bit more about the process of dying. They may also find it comforting that lots of friends and family come to say goodbye too. Unless they really don’t want to go, it’s better to take them than leave them wondering what’s happening and why they couldn’t take part. Make sure someone they trust is with them all the time, whether they go or not, to answer any questions and mop up the tears.
Why Is Mum/Dad Crying? Grown-Ups Don’t Cry
Some children get upset when they see adults cry. Explain that it’s natural to feel sad when someone dies and you know you won’t see them again. It’s all right for the child to cry, and it’s normal for parents to cry when someone they love dies, too.
Parents often try not to cry in front of their children but grief may make them a bit distant for a while. It’s important for a child to know that their parents are upset too and that it doesn’t mean they don’t love the child any more.
It’s Not Fair
“Why did so-and-so have to die? It’s not fair,” is a common reaction. The only real answer is that, sadly, that’s just how life is. So-and-so wasn’t being punished, didn’t die intentionally, didn’t abandon the child. They just came to the end of their life. Death isn’t either fair or unfair: it just happens.
What’s Death Like?
This is a tough question: very few people have come back from the dead, so it’s hard to tell. The ones that have come back all say that it didn’t hurt, and many of them mention a bright light and a feeling of peace. So it seems death isn’t normally unpleasant. An illness before death is probably worse than actually dying, but medicines can do a lot to make it more comfortable. Many people die peacefully, and often people around them aren’t even aware that they have died for a few minutes afterwards.
Why Do Some People Die Young And Some When They’re Very Old?
Usually people only die when they’re young if there’s something wrong with them or they have an accident. Most people die when they’re older because as we get older our bodies wear out, just like clothes and cars wear out, and when they stop working we die. Even doctors find it hard to tell when someone’s going to die; some people live for a long time even when they’re quite ill.
I Don’t Want To Forget So-And-So
Offer a keepsake – a photo or something that belonged to the dead person – to help the child remember them. Remind the child of good times they enjoyed together. There’s no good reason why they should be expected to forget someone they’ve loved, any more than an adult would.