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How to talk to children about death

Parents must consider their child's age, intellectual ability, and cultural background to help them cope with grief – here's a guide from a pediatrician

By creating a supportive environment and allowing them to express their feelings, parents can help children work through their grief.(Pexels)

By Dr Paula Goel

LAST PUBLISHED 27.04.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

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Dealing with death can be a challenging experience for children, as they may struggle to comprehend the full implications of the situation. Pediatricians suggest that parents must consider their child's age, intellectual ability, and cultural background to help them cope with grief. Younger children may need reassurance that the deceased loved one is not coming back, while adolescents may have a more profound understanding of death and express emotions such as sadness, anger, and apathy. By creating a supportive environment and allowing them to express their feelings, parents can help children work through their grief and come to terms with their loss.

If you need to talk to your child about the loss of a loved one, here are some helpful tips:

1. Use simple language and be calm: Use easy-to-understand language and speak slowly. Be honest and transparent when telling your child about the death of their loved one. Give them a moment to take in the news and give yourself time to manage your own emotions.

2. Listen and comfort: Every child reacts to death differently. Some may cry, while others may appear distracted. It's important to listen to your child and comfort them during this time. Answer their questions or just be there for them. Let them know that it's okay for them to see you express sadness or grief.

3. Ask about their feelings and talk about your own: Ask your child how they're feeling and thinking about the situation. Talk about your own feelings and emotions, which can help them feel more comfortable sharing their own. Assure them that it's okay to show their feelings and express them to others.

4. Explain any changes in routine: In the event that your child's routine or life must alter as a result of the loss of a loved one, explain what will happen. This helps your child feel prepared for any upcoming changes. Remind them that they are not to blame for the death and that it's natural to feel guilty.

5. Allow children to join in rituals: Let your child participate in any rituals, such as funerals or memorial services. Describe what will occur and what they may anticipate. Mourning is an important way for all to come to terms with their loss and to say goodbye.

6. Help them remember the person: Encourage your child to connect with the departed individual and remember them in a positive light. This could include painting a picture, reading a poem, writing something about the person, or singing a song. Don't shy away from discussing the deceased individual. Sharing joyful recollections might aid in the mourning process.


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7. Offer extra support: Some children may have trouble sleeping or have fears and worries after a loved one dies. Let them know that these feelings will get better with time. Offer extra time and care for them, and consider support groups or counseling if they need more help.

Remember, everyone grieves differently, and it's okay for your child to take their own time to process their emotions. Maintain communication with them and let them know you are available to them. Helping your child cope with grief can be a challenging process, but there are several things you can do to support them:

  1. Provide consistent care and support from trusted individuals. Your child needs to feel loved and supported during this difficult time.
  2. As much as you can, follow a regimen. Although it may be tempting to avoid daily activities, maintaining structure can provide a sense of normalcy and stability for your child. Make sure to include time for schoolwork, play, exercise, and other activities.
  3. Infants and young children may benefit from physical contact, such as cuddling, singing, and rocking. They may experience security and affection as a result.
  4. Avoid punishing your child if they display challenging or regressive behaviors. Instead, provide extra support and understanding.
  5. Inform your child's teachers and friends about their loss so they can provide additional support when needed.

Remember that grief is a process that takes time, and it's important to check in with your child frequently to see how they are feeling. If your child is struggling to cope or if their distress lasts for more than a few weeks, consider seeking help from a doctor or mental health professional. They can provide additional resources and support to help your child heal.

Dr Paula Goel is paediatrician & adolescent specialist, Fayth Clinic