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Children Dealing with Death

QUESTION: Children dealing with death - What do we tell them?


Dealing with death and telling children about death causes us to keep in mind the basic needs of children. Children need to feel safe and secure while facing issues on the death and dying of a loved one or someone they know. The following guidelines are to assist in meeting the emotional needs of children dealing with death.

Along with the death of a loved one comes the grieving process. Understanding this process aids us in helping children deal with their loss. In preparation, we need to resolve within ourselves our own feelings about death which will give us the inner strength to provide an atmosphere of safety and security for the children.

Encourage the child to express their feelings, concerns, or fears about death. Provide small amounts of information at a time about the circumstances, which allows the child to absorb what has taken place. Anxiety can hinder remembering what they were told, so the questioning concerns of children may be repeated. We can reinforce our answers with soft repetitive replies.

Giving good physical care while demonstrating a consistent sensitive attitude will help the children feel safe and secure. Encourage the child to continue their every day activities such as dressing oneself, personal hygiene, and other normal responses. These daily actions will help the child navigate through the denial stage of grief by keeping them in reality.

Anger will most likely follow the denial stage. You may receive many questions and accusations from the child about death. Don't take the angry outbursts personally and don't minimize their concerns. Rather, help the child channel that energy elsewhere by answering their questions and keeping them busy. Such actions could take the form of leaving flowers at the gravesite, writing their feelings in a letter to God or in a journal, or attending visitation at the funeral home.

Bargaining with God is the stage which commonly follows anger. Offer to take the child to their favorite pastor, Sunday school teacher, or someone they know and trust. Discussions about their feelings of guilt (or responsibility for the death) can be explored at this time and their worries can be alleviated. Focus the child's attention on positive thoughts by reminding the child of the good memories and the satisfying fun times.

When the bustling activities of funeral arrangements subside, depression can slip into the child's life. This can cause withdrawal from friends and loved ones. During this stage, keen observation is needed to guide the young ones. Focus the child's attention on daily short-term goals by spending time with the child and encouraging them to interact with their friends.

Acceptance is the final stage of the grieving process. Through acceptance, the adults can take care of unfinished business while the child learns that life goes on. The grieving process takes a while to work through, so give some space and privacy to the child. Death is a harsh reality. Walking children through this process equips them with the skills to successfully cope with loss as an adult bringing acceptance or closure to their lives and ours.

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