Children and death of a loved-one

by Rod Smith

1. Tell the truth, even to young children, as lovingly and directly as possible.

2. Avoid meaningless nonsense like “uncle has gone to America” – use words like “he died” and “dead.” “Gone away” or “passed away” are meaningless terms and only add to confusion.

3. Avoid nonsense like “God needed a helper and so God took your aunty.” Not only is this theological claptrap, it is likely to make a child wonder how an all-powerful God can need a beloved relative in Heaven more than a helpless child needs the same person on Earth.

4. Allow grief and mourning to freely occur for you and the child. Crying and wailing is helpful in the light of loss – stopping it up, blocking it, holding it in, will only allow natural grief to fester and transform into something unhelpful (anger, resentment) in the future.

5. If a child does not appear to be upset, don’t push the child toward your own grief. Allow the child to handle loss in his or her unique way.

6. I am of the opinion that it is helpful for children to attend funerals and to see the body. Of course I am aware that there are many who disagree and, of course, there are exceptions which include violent deaths, suicides, and so forth.

3 Comments to “Children and death of a loved-one”

  1. I struggle with they way I told the little one’s in my family, including my own, of the death of their young and vibrant aunt “L”. She had been really sick and wasn’t going to get better and took her own life in the end. I just could not tell these little one’s that she committed suicide – how would they understand, ranging in age from 9 to 2 years old. I just told them she got sick and was in the hospital and she died – her body and her spirit were tired. I am so afraid of them finding out the truth, which they will one day. We all have and continue to grieve our loss…All of the children attended the funeral and memorial services and we all take an active role in remembering her life. But how do you explain suicide of a very close loved one to a child?

  2. It depends, too, on the way in which the child is invited to see the body of the deceased. A lady I know was severely traumatised as a young child when her family forced her to see the body of her dead grandmother.

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