Helping Children With Death Experiences
When children feel that it is all right to talk about death, they will do so. Frequently their questions occur when there is a "teachable moment," for instance, when the class pet hamster or the relative of a friend has died. This is the time for parents or other adults to be open and honest, and to be aware of the developmental level of the children's understanding. Honesty involves avoiding euphemisms such as "death is like sleep or a long vacation"; clearly stating the facts about death as in "Grandma's body doesn't work anymore and she won't be coming back"; and even admitting ignorance as to what happens after death. Caring adults should also be aware that the questions might be frequently repeated, as the child tries to incorporate the death into his or her understanding of how life works. There also are a number of books that have been written for children about dying and death, and these too may open a dialogue about this topic.
In addition to open and honest discussion, bereaved children need emotional support, as much consistency and continuity with their past lives as possible, opportunities to remain connected to the person who has died, and to not be avoided by the other significant people in their lives. From teachers, other adults, and friends, they need to feel that they are not weird or different from other children. Most importantly, what all children need when it comes to death is to feel that they are on the "same side of the wall, rather than alone on the other side" (Schaeffer 1988, p. 141).
See also: MILESTONES OF DEVELOPMENT
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Illene C. Noppe