Say KNOW To Death
Little Johnny’s hamster dies while he is at school. You rush out to the pet store to buy a look-a-like hamster to use as a replacement before he gets home, hoping he‘ll never know.
Even if a child doesn’t find out about any replacement pets, what are you going to do when Grandma dies? She can’t be replaced.
When it comes to death, many of us have a difficult time talking about it. Things become even more difficult when we have to deal with questions about death from our children. Most parents have the best intentions when ignoring or covering up death. They want to protect their children from the pain, but consider this: few, if any, human beings are spared the death of a loved one so while parents may think they’re protecting their kids from pain, they may really be teaching them to be emotionally repressed and that their feelings don‘t matter. Keep in mind that young children learn how to cope with nearly all life circumstances by watching and imitating adults or older children. If the only time a child sees an adult address the issue of grief is during the immediate emotional crisis of a death, then the child may learn to be afraid of death based upon the adults. If the subject of death is dodged by adults when they’re confronted with it, then children will only learn to ignore their own feelings and the feelings of others when death affects their lives. This, by ceasing to address the concerns that children have about death, is contributing to their ignorance of the subject.
Parents should talk to their kids about death, just like they talk to them (or should talk to them) about sex and drugs. The point of talking about death with children would be to bring up the subject before a tragic event occurs (if it hasn‘t already), and to prepare them for it, as best one can prepare for what is often unexpected.
Let’s give children the knowledge, skills, and understanding required to live an emotionally secure and healthy life. Let them share their feelings about death and help them identify and express their emotions. They will learn to recognize the various feelings and changes brought about by death, and will learn how to adapt to the changes in circumstances.
One way to teach children about death is to use animals and their pets as examples. Let’s start with Little Johnny’s hamster. Perhaps instead of replacing the dead hamster, a parent should use the experience as an opportunity to teach their children about death. Tell them the truth about what happened (in a way they can understand, of course) and answer any questions they have. Let them know it’s okay to cry, feel angry or guilty and help them find healthy ways to express these emotions: draw a picture, write a poem, throw rocks in a pond, etc. Allow them, if they want, to have a funeral for the pet and to say a few words about how much the pet was loved and will be missed.
Another way parents can help children learn about death is to visit cemeteries. Take them to the graves of family members and share memories about your loved ones with your children. It is okay to cry in front of your kids. By doing so, you are setting an example that people can express their emotions in a healthy way.
Children who can talk about death outside of an immediate crisis situation will be better prepared to cope with death and its emotional effects, as they will have already learned how to identify and express their feelings.