Talking to a child about the death of a loved one can be a very difficult task, especially when you are dealing with the grief yourself. Depending on the child's age and previous life experiences, he or she may have many questions about the process of coping with grief and loss. It is important to answer your child's questions as honestly as possible, which will demonstrate an atmosphere that is safe and open.
Tip #1: Encourage Questions And Sharing Of Feelings
When your child sees you grieving, he or she may feel awkward or unsure about bringing up the death in front of you. It is important that you let your child know that talking about feelings of loss or sadness are helpful in working through the grief. Crying in front of your child does not show weakness, but rather an authenticity and sincerity that your child may not have witnessed before. It sends the message that it is ok to feel sad, and that talking to others who are also experiencing the same emotions can be very helpful.
Tip #2: Use Age Appropriate Language
Young children, under the age of 5 or 6, have a very literal perception of the world. The best explanation about death to a child of this age is one that is honest and straightforward. If an elderly family member dies, you might tell the child that the person's body just stopped working because it had been working for so very long. If someone dies suddenly in an accident, you could explain that the body was broken, like a toy would be if it was dropped or in a similar accident. This helps the child understand that the person is not coming back, because the body is no longer able to work on its own. Using euphemisms such as “Aunt Sarah went away” or “Grandpa is resting” can be very confusing to a young child, because they will take it literally and think the person will eventually come back or wake up.
Tip #3: Share Your Beliefs About Death And Religion
For the same reasons you find solace in your own personal beliefs, your child will too. Explain what your families ideas are about religion or spirituality, in an age appropriate way, and you can give your child that same sense of peace that you feel. Remember that the child will often have very literal questions about Heaven, the afterlife, funerals, burial services, etc. so be prepared to answer them in a way that won't confuse them or give them false hope.
Remember that a child's reaction to the death of a loved one will depend on age, life experiences and even the child's personality. There is not one particular way to approach the subject, but it is important to make the child feel comfortable and secure in talking about death. The more your child understands about what has happened, the easier the grieving process will be.