As much as you want to shield and protect your child from the reality that all lives one day come to an end, many circumstances are beyond our control, and it’s important to know how to talk with your child when the death of a loved one happens.
It is often difficult not only finding ways to express what happened, but also to make sense of what happened and how to accept it. The following is a helpful guideline of common do’s and don’ts when it comes to talking with your child about death. If you’re unsure of where to start and need help guiding your child through the grieving process, our staff is always here to help.
- Tell the truth about what happened right away - Look your children in the eyes and don’t hide anything from them, especially if they ask about it. Being open and emotional about what’s going on can help your child grow and learn how to mourn. More importantly, it gives an honest explanation for your pain and tears. Crying is often unavoidable and a healthy way to express feelings, so taking the time to cry together will help your children’s healing process too.
- Feel comfortable enough to say “I don’t know” - You won’t always have the answers, and that’s perfectly okay. It can be helpful to tell your child that you don’t know certain things or that you don’t understand either. It can make it easier for children to know they are not alone and gives you both the opportunity to learn and grieve together.
- Be prepared for a variety of emotions - Talking about death with your child can bring up many different emotional responses. It’s important to accept children’s feelings and to realize that, no matter how you approach the subject of death, children may respond differently than you expect. Give them time to express their emotions and be there to listen and provide comfort and understanding.
- Let children grieve in their own way - Every child handles traumatic situations differently. Your children may isolate themselves, cling to you, or seem completely unaffected. There is no right way to grieve, and it’s important to remember that they are going through a difficult time and need your support every step of the way.
- Take time to prepare children for what they will see at the funeral service - This is especially important if your child has never been to a funeral service and is experiencing it for the first time. Explain to your child what they will see, who will be there, how people will be feeling, and what the surroundings will look like. The more you prepare them, the less anxious they will feel beforehand.
- Don’t hide your own grief from your child - Allowing your children to see you grieve will let them know that it’s normal and healthy to cry. It’s okay to feel sad for a while after losing a close loved one.
- Don’t change your routine - Your child needs consistency and to feel secure. As much as you can, try to keep your daily routine at home as it always was so your child doesn’t have to go through too much change. It also helps to encourage your child to continue hanging out with friends and participating in school activities.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about your loved one and share memories - Sharing memories not only helps with the healing process, it also brings you and your children closer together. Invite them to regularly share stories to keep their spirits high and remind them that it’s good to remember and talk about their loved one whenever they want.
- Don’t avoid taking time to connect with your child - Oftentimes, a hug can be the most powerful connection that provides the exact comfort your children need. Take time to be patient, ask questions, and talk with them. It’s what grows you closer and helps with the grieving process.
- Don’t put a time limit on their grieving process - This is easily one of the most important steps. Recognize that, for your child, a new normal needs to happen and it’s a change that’s hard to come to terms with for everyone involved. Readjusting after the death of a loved one is difficult and the grieving process may seem never-ending, but we’re here to assure you that there is always hope after loss.
Talking to your child about the death of a loved one isn’t easy, and can feel almost impossible. Remind your children that they will always miss their loved ones, but they won’t always feel so very sad. If you’re in need of additional support, our experienced staff is here to walk with you and your child through the grieving process. Please contact us at Sytsema Funeral & Cremation Services by visiting our website or calling 231-726-5210 or 616-842-6100.