Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dealing with Death

As parents, we know we have a lot to teach our children. Some of those lessons happen at times outside of our control. Teaching our children about death doesn't happen at a time of our choosing, it happens when dictated by nature. Last week, we faced that situation when my husband's grandmother died. We weren't the only ones dealing with our grief - we had to help our 5 and 6 year olds through this time as well.

Telling the kids - The most important thing to remember is to tell them that someone died and not get overly caught up in euphemisms. My husband sat them down and told them that their great-grandmother had died. He answered their questions, he comforted them, but he made sure that they understood that she was dead.

Let the emotions flow - We told and showed our kids that it's OK to be sad, and it's OK to cry when you're sad. We did not let ourselves get so caught up in our own feelings that we couldn't support them.

Be prepared for questions - Kids will have questions, and some of them will seem quite strange. Giving them clear and simple answers helped them to understand.

Different strokes for different folks - Everyone handles death differently, and kids are no exception. My older son understood what had happened. He cried and expressed sadness that he would never see his great-grandmother again. I'm not sure how much the younger son understands, and he's the one who had the stranger questions. For example, we had to explain to him a few times that dead people don't come back.

Enlist their teachers - Kids may behave differently for awhile after hearing this kind of news, and it helps the teachers to know what's going on so they're prepared to deal with the situation in a helpful way for the kids. I sent the teachers an email explaining that their great-grandmother had died and that they would be missing school later in the week for the funeral. I also gave them specifics about how their student had handled the news so that they would be prepared for situations that could arise during school. I told my older son's teachers that he was upset and had cried quite a bit, so he may be upset or crying at school. I told my younger son's teachers that he had been asking a lot of questions and may be talking a lot about life and death, so that they would understand if he brought the topics up during school. Teachers are very appreciative when we tell them about any major situations that come up for our kids, and death fits in that category.

Have reasonable expectations - I knew my children couldn't go to the viewing. They wouldn't be able to handle standing quietly for hours while their parents talked to people they didn't know. And neither of them would be able to handle seeing their great-grandmother in the coffin. We also sent the children to childcare during the funeral service instead of expecting them to sit through the service. Parents have to decide what their kids are ready to handle. These decisions can impact their children well past the funeral time and must not be taken lightly.

Death can be a traumatic experience if not handled properly. If parents handle the situation with compassion and patience, it can be a learning experience that can help children grow.

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