How to talk about death to a child?
How to approach the delicate subject of mortality with the kids? If parents tend to avoid the subject to better protects them, there comes a time when we can no longer shrink from this truth. How can we explain precisely this taboo notion that we do not master?
From what age can he understand the notion of death?
Death is an idea that is perceived very early in life, especially from a visual point of view. An image, voice … these “physical” shortages are felt more strongly if the child is young.
This will not be “psychically” inscribed in his memory, but felt in his body, like a dark void. In the case of a baby who loses his mother, he may feel a few years later, perfume or a way of being worn, but can not identify him …
Moreover, about 3 or 4 years old, the child begins to become familiar with death through the loss of objects he keeps or when his parents leave him in the mornings at school. Death passes first through the notion of abandonment. Later still, his elders teach him what loss is, mourning something, making him aware of certain realities. Among the best known, the non-existence of Father Christmas.
“The consciousness of death gradually builds up effectively in the learning of loss and separation, but the impact of death on the child will depend on the child’s ties to the missing person. Aunt, he has seen once or twice will not have the same impact as the death of his grandmother who takes care of him regularly and with whom he has strong emotional ties.
How to answer your questions?
“Mom, what’s death?” This agonizing question happens quickly in parent-child conversations. This existential question is of the highest importance for a child, and we must not wait for the coming of drama to talk about it. Pictorial terms are often used, such as “grandpa has left to join granny in heaven” or “he has gone on a journey” … This may be a solution at the beginning, but this strategy has limits, risking creating confusion In the mind of the child. The best thing is to approach the subject in a straightforward and honest way, without much talk.
It is useless to tell a child that death is temporary and that the deceased has just been absent for a long time. We just have to explain to him that he will not come back. If this can be hard to hear on the spot, acceptance will then be less painful.
On the other hand, you can confess to your child that you do not know what happens after death, or that death leads us all to paradise. This dialogue between him and you will allow him to start thinking.
How can we announce the death of a relative?
If a death occurs in your child’s life, it will have been a good idea to have addressed the topic before. It is essential to announce him quickly, without waiting for him to be surprised that he has not seen the person for some time. So you must tell him gently that this loved one has gone to heaven and will not come back. Moreover, if the pain is too perfect for you, just say you are morose, and you will say more about it later. The lie must, therefore, be entirely excluded, at the risk of generating confusion and anxieties in the child. Moreover, also, know that a child is quite capable of understanding your grief and can even be an excellent comforter.
It is also necessary to explain to a child that if the loved one is no longer physically present, he will always be in his heart and will accompany him throughout his life. A photo hanging on the wall or writing a letter can also be a solution to alleviate the pain temporarily.
Should he attend the funeral?
Many psychologists advise the child to participate in the funeral. This ceremony can help him better understand what is happening and benefit from family support. Reassuring words, tender gestures, texts in remembrance of the loved one … The child must be able to observe, assimilate mourning by making memories and cry freely. It is finally the best way to say goodbye to a missing person. If the child wishes, he can also see the body of the deceased and add in the coffin, a photo, an object, a drawing …
How can we help him overcome a death?
Sometimes the child begins to develop a sense of guilt and feels responsible for the death of the deceased. A child can remember having thought of bad things, having wished for his death through passing anger. He may also feel responsible when he feels he has not loved that person. Explain that there is no reason for it, that thoughts do not kill, and that each one of us sometimes has bad ideas.
In other cases, some children get infantilized, ask for more kisses and attention. This is a sign that they are not living well and are having trouble grieving. In these cases, let them come to you at their pace and know how to show you this. Avoid leaving them alone in their grief and try to multiply with them moments of relaxation, outings or moments of hugs.
Moreover, if your child wishes, a regular visit to the grave of the deceased can be a great comfort, despite the wisdom received.
In the case of insurmountable distress, get help!
In some more extreme cases, some children become aggressive, refuse the company of other children, have trouble sleeping or are completely indifferent to bereavement. If this kind of attitude becomes recurrent, it is there that the child will need to overcome this blockage to express his emotions, notably thanks to the help of a psychotherapist.