Is one ever truly prepared to talk to your kids about death? The answer is no. It is a morbid topic – one we would prefer to ignore, thank you very much.
But the truth is that our kids have been exposed to so much this past year. This Covid-19 season has changed the narrative for many. And besides for having to deal with that trauma as an adult, imagine trying to compute it, as a young child with limited knowledge about death and dying.
My 6-year old is aware that contracting the virus could potentially mean death. I needed to tell her the truth about death and that there is hope at the end of it.
I visited a few of my favorite online resources for tips on how to start that conversation. Here is what I’ve learnt:
Preparation is important
Consider introducing the topic of death before a beloved pet or loved one dies. This gives your child some time to process the information in a calm way, without needing to deal with any other emotions at the same time. One website gave a great example of using cut flowers to help explain the concept of the life and death cycle.
When placing the flowers in water, you can talk about how full of life, bright and vibrant they are. Once they start wilting, you can talk about how the body is also not designed to live forever. Reiterating that our physical bodies can die due to various causes such as accidents, diseases (like the coronavirus) and old age. You may also want to distinguish between a “big sick” (Cancer etc) and a “small sick” (the flu). This will set your child’s mind at ease the next time you have the sniffles.
Tell the truth
It is in our nature, as parents, to want to protect our child from the harsh realities of this world. But knowledge is power. One website suggests not using fluffy names for death, dying, died and dead. I’ve often made up little stories to help protect them from the truth (eg. aunty so-and-so is on holiday in heaven) but by giving them the correct terminology and the correct understanding of the concept you are empowering your child to better deal with the situation.
Avoid using euphemisms like “sleeping” or “with the angels”. You will also need to explain that death is permanent and not temporary. You must be prepared to have an ongoing conversation about this as they reach new levels of revelation on the topic.
Talk about feelings
Normalise feelings of sadness and grief by sharing your own experiences and feelings. In fact, be as vocal about it as possible (“I feel so sad that Grandma died”). This gives your child (especially boys, who may try to act tough and not show grief) permission to feel all their feelings. AND – more importantly – it gives them an outlet to express it in a healthy way.
I always try to end off the conversation with a message of hope or peace. I will also bring Jesus into the conversation and talk about God being our comforter. My conversation would go something along the lines of: “isn’t it amazing that God says that He is our comforter? So even now, when we’re feeling sad, God says He will be especially close to us, to help us feel better.”
Is Heaven real?
You would probably want to answer questions relating to heaven according to your own beliefs. I believe that God is real and that He promises us life after death, so I will be sharing that with my child. As a Christian, a conversation regarding death is a great way to teach your child more about Jesus. His life and death on earth was God’s way of giving us eternal life in heaven.
Even though the body dies on earth, the spirit lives on, in the presence of God – free of pain. My child will learn that we have a living hope through our relationship with God. She will also learn that we are offered life, after death, if we make a decision to partner with Him. I love that we are guaranteed to see each other again, in heaven – what a wonderful reunion that will be!
“We are more than dust… that means something. We are more than just blood and emotions, inklings and notions, atoms over oceans.” – Brooke Fraser, ‘Hosea’s Wife’