As parents, we try to protect our children from unpleasant things. Since death can be an overwhelming topic, many parents are reluctant to broach the subject with their kids. Eventually, though, even children encounter death. It might be the death of a grandparent or a beloved pet, but when the time comes, here are some tips for talking to children about death.
- Prepare before the need arises. Death is all around, and even young children know it exists. Talk to your child about the dead bug you see on a walk, or a dead houseplant. It’s important to help kids understand that everything dies, and death is permanent. The more you normalize the concept, the less frightening it will be when someone important dies.
- When death happens, don’t hide it. Try to stick to normal routines as much as possible as you deal with the loss, but tell the kids as soon as you’re comfortable doing so. Let them know why you’re sad, and that it’s ok for them to be sad, too.
- Use clear, direct language. Don’t use euphemisms, like, “gone to a better place” or “sleeping” or even “passed away”. These can give a child the wrong idea about death. Instead, use words like “died” and “death”, explaining that when someone dies, the body stops working and can’t start again.
- Let children handle things in their own way. Some children will cry, others will ask a lot of questions, and others will be silent. However your child needs to process the death is fine, because there’s no right or wrong way to grieve.
- Allow your children to participate in rituals as they feel comfortable. Whether or not a child attends a funeral is a personal decision. Some children will express a desire to go, while others will want to stay home. If you do take your child to a funeral, explain in advance what to expect. Make a plan in case it’s too overwhelming, to take the child home or to another room to play. Let kids participate in some way, perhaps by drawing a picture for the person who has died or helping choose photos to be displayed at the service. Allowing your children to be a part of the collective grieving experience is a good way to help them heal.
The Catholic Cemeteries of the Diocese of San Jose is committed to providing a sacred place, where you and your family can remember loved ones in a peaceful and hope-filled setting. If you have questions, we’re happy to answer them. We have three locations: Calvary Catholic Cemetery in San Jose, Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Los Altos, and St. John the Baptist Cemetery in Milpitas. For more information, contact us through our website, or call Calvary at 833-428-0379, Gate of Heaven at 833-304-0763, or St. John the Baptist at 833-428-0379.