How To Talk To Your Children About Grief
When someone close to your family dies it is important to deal with the grief that you feel in your own way so that you can move forward with your life. However, it can be difficult to explain to your children what has happened so that they can cope with the loss as well. Being able to talk to your kids about grief and death is tricky because young children are sometimes unable to fully grasp the concept of death. By keeping a few tips in mind you will be able to share the meaning of this important time in life.
Explain Death Using Understandable Concepts
One of the most important things to remember is that your child’s worldview changes as they get older. When someone dies you will want to be open and honest with your kids and encourage them to ask questions. However, you do not want to make things overly complicated or push them away. Show them that there is no right or wrong way to feel during their grief so that they can start to come to terms with what they are experiencing. They need to understand that grief is normal.
When kids are very young, until the age of about six, they think in very literal terms. Explaining that someone has died following a long illness or because they were elderly, for example, can be all that they need to hear. Let them know how the event makes you feel and be clear in explaining that death is final. Children this young may not understand that all things must eventually die, so they may continue to ask about the deceased’s whereabouts. Be careful not to say that the person “went to sleep” or “went away” because, thinking literally, they will wonder when the person will come back to the family.
Discussing Death and Grief with Older Children
When children reach the age of 10 and progress into their teenage years, they begin to understand more about death and mortality. Talk to your kids about how death is a natural part of life. If an accident was the cause of death, reiterate that sometimes things happen that are out of our control and all we can do is continue to do what is right and safe, such as wear seatbelts in the car.
Even then it is important to remember that at any age your kids will respond to the situation in their own way. Changes in behavior are common. You can talk to your children about the funeral or other memorial service and let them decide if they would like to attend. This empowerment can give them a sense of control at least over something that is saddening.
Discuss Your Spiritual Beliefs about Death and the Afterlife
Your kids are likely to ask a question that many parents would hope to avoid; “What happens to people when they die?” You want to be direct with your children and talk to them about the physical nature of death while also discussing the truth about what occurs after physical death. Draw on inspiration from the Bible and let them know what you believe about heaven and God’s plan for our lives. That way they will be able to strengthen their relationship with God while also connecting what they hear at church on Sunday to what happens in their life.
During difficult times such as these, you can also seek the guidance of a Christian counselor. Wise counseling can help bring your family together and receive support and comfort. Christian counseling can provide you with the tools you need to cope with grief so that you and your children can find peace.
Written by Richard Hoffman. Richard is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a member of The American Association of Christian Counselors and a Board Certified Christian Counselor.