Death is probably any human being's biggest fear. The fact that death is inevitable and unpredictable makes it frightening to people. The occurrence of a death in the family affects everyone from the emotionally stable to the emotionally weak. Therefore, it is important that you understand the situation and behave appropriately. It is helpful to be a pillar of support to the family and dear ones, at this time of need. And explaining death to children is mandatory, as coping with the death of a loved one can be a mammoth task for them.
When a death occurs in the family, it may be expected or sudden. It is a strong blow to all family members, and they have trouble coping with it. This results in your young child being surprised by the happenings around him. But your child may not be able to completely understand why there is a sudden change in the behaviour of all the elders around him. This leads him to seek answers directly from you. And if he was close to the person who passed away, explaining the absence of that person to the child can be a delicate issue. A child, depending on his or her age, may not be able to grasp the concept of death easily. This makes your role all the more important.
In the Case of an Expected Death
In the event of an expected death, you must tell the child in advance about what to expect. You need to make sure you use the right terms so as to avoid frightening him. You must make sure that he understands clearly about the effects of the death. This is to ensure that he does not ask inappropriate questions before the terminally-ill person, or any other relatives. You can also suggest to the child that he should spend quality time with the sick person, so he will have special memories to treasure.
In the Case of a Sudden Death
Children are more affected if someone they were close to passes away suddenly. This is because they didn't get any time to prepare for the event. The best solution under these circumstances is to help the child focus on the better times he spent with the deceased person. Doing this helps the child think positively about that person. Another way of helping the child cope is by helping him grieve. You can do this by letting him know that it is alright to cry. Helping a child grieve is very mandatory, according to many child psychologists. Giving him an avenue to vent his feelings plays an important role in coping with a death.
Why it is Important to Help him Cope
It is a difficult task to console a child and explain to him about a death. This is especially true when you yourself are struggling hard to come to terms with it. But you must keep in mind that if you do not take up this responsibility, it may have an adverse effect on the child. Children of different age groups cope with this situation differently. But your interaction with your child will lessen the damage. Children above 8-9 years of age may get depressed and go into a shell if an unexpected death occurs. It is important that you reassure the child of his safety, and answer all the questions he or she may have.
Reassuring the Child
If the child is very young, you can begin by behaving as normally as possible with him. This should calm the child down considerably. After this, you need to explain to him the incident, and why it had an effect on the other family members. Depending on his age, you can use terms that he will understand. Make sure you do not use words that may strike fear into him, like saying that the person will 'never return', or has 'died'. Though older children can face reality, younger children will only take it in the literal meaning and be affected by it. Ensure that you do not set false expectations, though. Even if you are softening the blow for your young one, it is not advisable to create wrong illusions about death.
Explaining death to a teenager though, is different. This is because most teenagers are aware of death and the effects of it. But along with their awareness, their fear of it is also heightened. Breaking news of a death to a teenager is easier if you can do so with spiritual undertones. You should also remain calm and controlled in this situation as teenagers understand body language well. Being emotionally stable will make it easier for your teen to find mental balance as well. Most teenagers will turn to friends during a difficult time, so allow him or her to do so. Close friends can be the best remedy for your teen, under the circumstances. But make sure you play your role before you let him interact with his friends, so that no questions catch him unawares outside home.
In the event of a death, definitely take into consideration your child's emotions. It goes a long way in making him a stronger individual.