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How do you talk to your children about death?

by Jennifer Muirhead (follow)
I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma ~ Eartha Kitt.
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caucasian human skull, skull, death
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What do you tell your children when they ask about death, for example after the death of a family pet or a relative?

#Death
#Parenting
#Children
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#Education
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We're not religious, so my husband and I told our four year old that when we die we decompose and that eventually the tiny particles that made up our bodies will become part of something else. We also told her that every atom in our bodies has been other things (people, animals, stars) before. She seems to more or less get it. It helps that she's really interested in science and the idea of things rotting and being eaten by bugs doesn't seem to gross her out.

I can't say how well she'll cope the first time she loses someone very close to her but if we're there to help support her hopefully it will be okay. As to worrying about our own deaths, the way I try to think of it is that being dead will be no different for me from the millions of years before I was born. What remains of me will be the memories I leave behind for the people I love.
I think death is something that most adults try not to think about too much themselves, so it's a bit hard for parents to explain it to their children unless they have a religious faith of some kind. If you're not religious and are really struggling, perhaps buy a book that addresses death in a sensitive and compassionate way that children will be able to relate to. A couple of books you might find helpful are 'What Does Dead Mean? by Caroline Jay and Jenni Thomas and 'Farewell Grandpa Elephant' by Isabel Abedi.
Getting a book is a great idea, especially if you have a child who's really into books like mine are.
This is a really interesting question, and in honesty I dread having to discuss the fragility of life with my children. As an adult I've not coped well with mortality and I've struggled with dealing with grief. When the time is right and my children are older I hope I can find the right words to explain it all to them in a way that they won't feel overwhelmed by it all and in a way where they can understand it's part of life and part of a circle of life. I do think its a worthy conversation as I never understood what it meant as a child until someone actually died and then I couldn't get over the finality of it all. Pre warned is pre-armed, so they say; so I'll definitely look to find some inspired words soon,
One of our very close family friends passed away recently, and when we attended her funeral service, my children asked many questions about death and they took it all in very well. They understand just as babies are born, people die and that is the cycle of life. The really innocent question came from my 5year old daughter who asked what will happen to our friend after we leave the service. I told her that she will buried into the ground. My daughter sweetly asked me: So that she can grow back out again? :)
Awww. That's sweet. And sort of true I suppose.
This is a really interesting question, and in honesty I dread having to discuss the fragility of life with my children. As an adult I've not coped well with mortality and I've struggled with dealing with grief. When the time is right and my children are older I hope I can find the right words to explain it all to them in a way that they won't feel overwhelmed by it all and in a way where they can understand it's part of life and part of a circle of life. I do think its a worthy conversation as I never understood what it meant as a child until someone actually died and then I couldn't get over the finality of it all. Pre warned is pre-armed, so they say; so I'll definitely look to find some inspired words soon,
hi, i struggle with alot of worries about when is the right time to tell a child things. my parents were very closed and conservative and i grew up not knowing things and wondering ....and worrying....until my parents 'decided' that the time was 'right' to tell me....how did they know when the time was right? so i decided from the outset i would just be very open and talk openly about things. so many things are mentioned on the tv that explore subjects you may not think your children are ready to explore, however strict you are with the tv - lots of it is on the news or documentary, educational style programmes, or that they see at school or at friends. or their friends talk to them and plant seeds. so by just constantly addressing every issue from day one, they grow with it so it isn't the big daunting unknown. when the kids are there when a death, murder or terrorist activity is mentioned on the news, even when they were very young, we would talk about it, so there was always the opportunity for them to ask the questions themselves about what happens to the 'dead people'. Personally I believe in spirit and my kids have been freaked out at school by hearing that when they die, they finish and their body rots. They accept the natural progression of their physical body not being needed and continuing on. (interesting that before any of this was mentioned by us my son used to talk about his 'other mummy' so yes, we believe in reincarnation and for him it was a natural path to talk about it. I feel sorry for my friends who panic about the 'right time' to talk about death, periods and sex etc. it is around us all the time and they hear it from others, if it is openly spoken about the child will find their own 'right time' to want to explore their curiosity further.
But I agree with Carolyn, if you struggle yourself - then books are great. It's when parents own struggles and fears impact on their kids....and it is so difficult for that not to happen.
I think it depends very much on the age of the child, and who died, and in what circumstances.

For a young child, answering the questions with simple answers and only giving as much information as they ask for, is the best option. When our first goldfish died, and my twins were about 3 years old, we held a little ceremony before flushing him down the toilet (we lived in a city apartment - no garden). They didn't ask about living and dying, just wanted to know where he would go. "Back to the sea" was a good enough answer for them. For the school age child, there are more questions, and has been said before, books can help with this. When my twins were 5, their great grandmother died. They didn't go to the funeral but we had a discussion about people being born, and then dying when they get old, and the soul of the person is with us in our memories, and the body no longer houses that person so it is best to go back to the earth. I found a book about dying that was Indigenous American and I read that to them. I can't remember what it said now, but it seemed to satisfy their questions then. I would think that if a family is religious or from a particular culture that has a believed concept of death, likely there are guides or rituals to follow that help explain it.

If the child is a teenager, it's a lot harder. I don't know the answer, but I have had many discussions with teenagers about death. Partly this is due to my experience with teenagers who have cancer or have a sibling or parent with cancer. They tend to have very specific questions about death. I answer their questions as directly, and straightforward and honestly, without jargon, as best I can. They appreciate the honest and straightforward answers.

However, more recently, my 17yr old daughter died suddenly and unexpectedly. Her twin brother, now 20, still won't talk about it. I have had many discussions with her girlfriends, but none with the boys. The girls are more willing to talk about it, the boys might talk to each other but they certainly don't talk to me. The discussions are not so much about the process of death, but about living, meaning of living, questioning the purpose of life and why some people die young and others don't. We cry during these discussions. They don't make the fact of death, or the loss of the person, any more bearable. So I would say there are no ways to discuss death with a teenager, or an adult for that matter, that makes death less painful. But the process of talking, and keeping on talking is important - because as humans we all want answers. And even though we won't ever get the answers (why this person, why now, when is my time up) continuing to talk about it until the realisation really hits for each individual is important.
My best advice for teens is don't force them to talk, but be open to talking whenever they want to, and be prepared for pain and tears each time. That's just the way it is.
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