by Kriston Wenzel, LBSW, CT
Talking about death is not something most of us are comfortable doing—even with other adults. Sometimes in the midst of our own grief, we forget that death can present a tremendous blow to even the youngest children. Children understand death very differently than adults, depending on their age and stage of development. Below are tips to help you talk to your child about death.
- Be honest. Provide simple, direct and honest answers and encourage questions. If you don’t know an answer, say so.
- It’s not your fault. Reassure the child that he/she will always be taken care of and loved and that the death was not his/her fault.
- Don’t judge. Do not judge what a child says or does. Instead, acknowledge what is said or done to preserve trust and help him/her continue sharing.
- Be a model. Examine yourself and your own grieving. A child learns about grief by watching you. If you hide your feelings, the child will hide his/hers. Don’t be afraid to cry around your child.
- Watch for teachable moments. Use natural circumstances to teach the child about loss, such as the death of a pet or a change of seasons.
- Avoid unhealthy explanations:
“He has gone on a long trip.”
The child may feel hurt that the person left without saying goodbye.
“He was taken away by God.”
The child may fear being taken away, too, or may have anger toward God.
“She died because she was sick.”
The child might think he/she will die the next time he or she is ill. Explain to the child that the person had a disease very different from the kind he or she gets.
“She is in eternal sleep.”
Saying this may cause the child to become afraid of sleeping.
Children grieve in unique ways, and there are resources available to you and your family to help you through this difficult time. If you know a child who has recently experienced the death of a loved one, we can help. Contact our grief support department at 800-237-4629 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kriston Wenzel, LBSW, CT, is a grief specialist at Hospice of the Red River Valley. What she enjoys most about her work is having the chance to help individuals and families find their strength and resiliency during such a difficult time in their lives.
About Hospice of the Red River Valley
In 1981, Hospice of the Red River Valley was founded on the belief that everyone deserves access to high-quality end-of-life care. We fulfill our nonprofit mission by providing medical, emotional, personal and spiritual care, as well as grief support to our patients, their families and caregivers during a tender time in life. Our staff helps those we serve experience more meaningful moments through exceptional hospice care, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, wherever a patient calls home. The organization serves more than 40,000 square miles in North Dakota and Minnesota, including in and around Bismarck, Detroit Lakes, Devils Lake, Fargo, Fergus Falls, Grand Forks, Lisbon, Thief River Falls, Valley City and many more communities. Hospice of the Red River Valley offers round-the-clock availability via phone, prompt response times and same-day admissions, including evenings, weekends and holidays. Contact us anytime at 800-237-4629 or hrrv.org.