Talking to Children about Death and Dying
Posted on June 22, 2023
Death is a difficult subject to talk about, especially with children. When a family member passes away, children may have questions, and while they may not understand the concept of death or the finality of it, having the conversation can help children process information and emotions.
To support families during these trying times, Islands Hospice social worker Muhammad Q. shares valuable insights and strategies for discussing death and dying with children. His tips will equip families with the tools they need to initiate these crucial conversations and provide a safe space for children to express their feelings, ask questions, and begin the healing process.
In your role, how do you help prepare a child for the death of a terminally ill family member or friend?
I approach the situation by engaging in open and honest conversations with them and explain the process of death while being sensitive to their emotions. I try to explain that death is a natural part of life that everyone will experience eventually. It is also important to consider the age of the child in these discussions and I always involve the parents or guardians of the child so that they can provide guidance and support throughout the conversation.
What are some strategies for helping a child navigate their emotions during the grieving process?
I’ve seen children develop their own metaphors for the death of a loved one to help them understand what’s happening. A patient's daughter once said that her father was in his “chrysalis phase” and when he passed on, he would become a butterfly and watch over her for the rest of her life. It was beautiful to see such a young child think so positively about her dad passing away. Another idea is having the child reflect on all the positive memories and times they had with their loved one and to journal and illustrate their good memories.
What are some signs that a child may need additional support or professional help in dealing with death?
The signs are similar to those observed in adults and include excessive crying, self-isolation, and an unwillingness to discuss their feelings. While some children may be more open about their feelings, others tend to withdraw and keep their emotions bottled up. It is particularly crucial to provide more assistance to children who exhibit a reluctance to open up, as they may require additional help in processing their emotions surrounding death.
What are some appropriate ways for children to say goodbye to a dying loved one?
Every child is going to process and handle the death of a loved one differently. Some children will approach it with openness and positivity while others are going to have a difficult time. Some children will prefer a goodbye, hug, and kiss. Some will want to draw art, write a poem, or do something similar as a final gift. It really comes down to what they're comfortable with.