When it comes to parenting, some conversations with your kids are more difficult than others. One of those tough conversations is about grief and loss.
You may not be able to predict when your child will experience loss for the first time. When it happens, you may naturally want to protect them from any grief or sadness. While a desire to protect your children is normal, grief and loss are subjects that they have to learn about eventually.
The more open and empathetic you are with your kids, the better off they’ll be when dealing with grief down the road.
Things to Consider Beforehand
Before you jump into a conversation about grief with your kids, there are some things to consider. First, age plays a role in their ability to understand grief and loss. With older children, you may be able to explore more in-depth conversations about death and how someone died.
For younger kids, you should still approach the conversation, but keep their emotional capacity in mind.
While keeping age in mind, also consider how close your child was to a person who died. When a child loses a parent, sibling, or another immediate family member, it will take a bigger personal toll than most other deaths.
Loss, and the impact it may have on your child, varies greatly. Your child may be more curious than sad about certain deaths, and it isn’t due to insensitivity. Coping with loss happens on a spectrum, so keep this in mind as you approach a conversation with your child.
Get a Feel For How Much Your Child Knows
Every child learns at a different pace. Whereas some kids may have a solid understanding of death at a young age, not all kids will be this way. Start by asking your kids if they know what death is.
If you’ve recently lost a family member, you can ask your child if they know what happened to that family member. Your child may express varying levels of understanding. They may express disinterest.
Whatever the case is for your kids, use their reaction and understanding to gauge how to move forward.
Be Honest — Don’t Use Euphemism
Children can handle tough conversations. In talking about grief, the best strategy is to be straightforward and honest. Your child is going to learn about death eventually, and it’s best to hear it from someone they trust.
Be gentle, but be honest about what happened to their loved one. Don’t give them false hope that that person may come back someday. An honest approach will benefit your child and their understanding of death the most.
Though it may be tempting to use them, avoid euphemism altogether. Phrases such as “she went to sleep” or “they went to a better place” are vague, confusing, and will not help your child.
Remember to Reassure
Death is a scary topic for kids. They may not fully understand it, and they’ll turn to you for reassurance. Remind them that the death is not their fault and that they are safe. Grief convinces us that there is something we could have done to prevent death.
Your child may let their mind wander with such fears, so be there to comfort and reassure them. Take your child’s questions seriously and answer them to the best of your ability. You may not have all the right answers at a given moment, but your reassurance will make your child feel comfortable and safe.
Grief and loss are difficult topics to tackle, especially with children. However, death is inevitable, and your child should learn about it in a realistic but empathetic way. If you’ve been struggling to talk to your kids, take these strategies and move forward with the difficult but crucial conversation.