Helping Young Kids Work Through Death and Dying

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We recently had a death in the family and it was the first major loss for my oldest (5-year-old). To be honest, it was one of my first as well (my grandmother died nine years ago). 

My Granddad died Monday, Aug. 26, after less than two days in the ICU on life support. It was extremely traumatic for us to watch him there helpless and seemingly already gone. As family gathered from near and far to say goodbye, I was grieving his loss but also grieving about sharing this great loss with my daughter. It devastated me to think about how to tell her. He had been in and out of the hospital for exactly three months and we had talked about him and how he was very sick. I discussed age and how we all eventually die when we get older. She even visited him in the hospital up until the point where he started to not be himself. His being sick and growing weaker understandably made her nervous. 

She LOVED her Great “Granddatty,” as she called him. He would sing her silly songs and gifted her Ty Beanie Babies from his collection every time we visited him in his condo. She would insist we give him a call every now and then when driving around just to say hi and I love you. We were so lucky to have him around and for her to form a relationship with him.

There is not manual for this aspect of life and it comes at us fast even when we have time to prepare. When you think you are ready to say goodbye, you quickly find out you are not ready to let go. Here are some helpful tips fromCindy Robinson, the founder and creator of The Kid Factory, a community project aimed at finding solutions for the mental health crises kids and teens are currently facing. 

Cindy works in Atlanta as a mindfulness curriculum coordinator (a position she created for herself) at a children's counseling center.

Talking to Children about Death and Dying  

Talking to children about death and grief can be very overwhelming, especially if you are also grieving the loss of that person. There are many layers to every loss, for example; how old the child is when they lose someone, how they lost their loved one, how close they were to the loved one, etc. But here are a few tips that almost always apply:

  1. It is best if the conversation about death happens early on. Pets or other animals are often a good way to introduce death to their vocabulary and understanding of the world.

  2. Use clear, direct language with the child. “Aunt Sally died today” vs. “Aunt Sally passed away today.” Indirect language can be very confusing, especially to older children.

  3. Worries and concerns about other people dying are natural and understandable. Allow them to express these worries and don’t try to “fix” them by saying everything will be ok. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. It is better to just comfort them and say, “It is scary to think about. I worry about that sometimes too.”

  4. Explain to them that sadness is love, in a different form. The more you love that person, the harder it is to lose them. But that you would rather have gotten to love them for a little while, than not at all. This is often a good time to make something in memory of the person you lost (a pillow out of a t-shirt, for example).

  5. Kids won’t always cry. Sometimes they won’t show any emotion at all. The important thing is that you make it ok to show emotion, however much they show.

  6. Don’t avoid talking about that person. It’s ok to bring them up when something reminds you of them, and it’s ok if that makes you or your child sad. Most of the time they are thinking of them anyway, but don’t want to mention it because they think it might make you sad. Just circle back to #4 if needed.

Resources:

Kate’s Club - www.katesclub.org

Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

Always and Forever by Alan Durant

The Bereaved Parent by Harriet Schiff

Tune in for more with Cindy on her Podcast “Go Get Mom!” and at www.thekidfactory.org

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In Loving Memory of

My Granddad Joseph S. Hice Sr.

Laurie Michaelson