In a perfect world, there would be no bad things that happen but unfortunately, we do not live in that world. Bad things happen all the time. It’s often easier not to think about all that is happening in the news when you are not personally affected by the events. What do you do when something hits close to home? Have you thought about what you are comfortable sharing with your children? Talking about death and other tough topics with your kids is not easy. It’s not in their best interest to shield them from everything. You also don’t want to share too much and scare them or even traumatize them if you can help it. Creating open communication with your children is important so they feel comfortable asking questions and knowing you will be honest with them.
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Talking About Death
The American Psychology Association gives great advice on how to talk to your kids about difficult news. Some of the main tips they give are below.
- Think about what you want to say
- Find a quiet moment
- Find out what they know already
- Share your feelings with your child
- Tell the Truth
- Above all, reassure
Personally affected by death
On November 7, 2018, there was a horrible mass shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in my hometown of Thousand Oaks, CA. We found out the next day that my cousin, Blake Dingman, was one of the 12 victims. He was only 20 years old and had so much life left to live. My heart still is breaking for his parents and brother as they have had to continue through life without him. Blake and the 11 other victims will never be forgotten.
Since I didn’t know too much the morning after the shooting I had chosen to keep my words very broad with my kids. I just mentioned that someone did something very bad the night before. My boys at the time were 8, 3 and 1. When I picked them up from school that day, the mood was somber. They could sense that something was wrong. We sat in the car quietly for a minute and I chose my words carefully. I didn’t want to worry them but I knew they needed to know at least a little of what happened. I told them that a guy had come into a restaurant and killed a bunch of people. Unfortunately, one of the people he killed was our cousin, Blake. We are all very sad about what happened.
I didn’t go into details with them because it would be too much for them to understand. My oldest was definitely sad but I could tell he appreciated me being honest with him. He didn’t know Blake that well since he had only met him a couple of times, but Blake was family and someone had hurt someone in our family. Over the next week or so, we watched a lot of news coverage about what happened and we talked some more. We answered any questions that my oldest had. My other 2 sons were pretty oblivious but that was fine. We decided to bring our oldest son to the funeral with us but not the younger two. We have talked to our oldest about how we will see Blake again in heaven someday.
Losing someone close
When I was growing up, I lost some family members (including an Uncle to suicide) and it really affected me. I still remember sitting in my kitchen at the counter with a friend. My mom wanted my best friend to be there when she told me about my Uncle dying. She knew I would want a friend to lean on and cry with. Every child is different and you can use your best judgment about what might help them cope.
Most kids at some point will have someone close to them die. It could be a grandparent, great-grandparent, Uncle, Aunt, Brother, Sister, Parent, or anyone else. Each child will be affected differently and age will have a lot to do with it. Talking about death is not easy but it is necessary.
Psychology Today gives some great tips with the Do’s and Don’ts of talking with a child about death. When talking about death here are some tips:
- Use clear and concise words (Don’t be vague with things like they went away for a while)
- Talk to your child right away and be honest
- Listen to them
- Let them cry and hold them if they need it
- Talk to them about what happens next (ie: funeral)
- Help them remember the person by talking about memories
How to Move On
Your child will be going through a process mentally and emotionally. They will need to process what happened as well as what that means now. Depending on who it was that died and how close they are, you might want to do some things together. Here are some possible ways to help your child process the death.
- Casually bring up happy memories of the person that died
- Have your child write the person a letter which can help with closure
- Your child can draw a picture of the person
- You can print a picture of the person to put in your child’s room
- You can get something personalized to help them remember the person, like a stuffed bear
- Ask your child how they are feeling about the person who died
- Remember the person on holidays
Here are some great books that can help your child cope with loss.
Related Post- Another tough topic is Infertility. Here is my post about How to Respond to Someone Dealing with Infertility.