Death can happen to anyone. From the death of our first pets, to the death of elderly relatives – some of our first encounters with death are fuzzy at best.
If you have young children, you might be wondering what’s the best way to explain the situation to them. The truth is, most children are aware of a concept of death. It happens in TV shows and cartoons, and it happens in our everyday lives – think of a squashed ant, for example.
However, children may not fully comprehend death for what it is. For example, they may not realise that everyone will eventually die – even their parents, or themselves. Or some children may not realise that death is permanent, and many tend to ask about a deceased relative: “When is he coming back?”
To help you manage your child’s understanding and feelings towards death, here are some things you can consider doing.
Explain in simple language
Some parents are afraid to tell their children the whole truth about death, and instead use euphemisms like ‘Grandma has gone to sleep’, or ‘is taking a long trip’. This may have the unintended effect of making them misunderstand what death is – or make them fear unnecessarily of activities like going to sleep or travelling.
Instead, it is better to explain death to your child in simple and concrete terms. Some main points to bring across are that death is permanent and universal. Bring these across in simple terms like ‘He/She won’t be coming back. We won’t be able to see him/her anymore.” You can also soften these with assurances that you have memories to treasure and look back on. If you are religious, you can also offer them hope of meeting them again in the afterlife.
Let them grief in their own ways
Even if some young children do not yet understand death, they typically can sense grief through their family members. Some may feel sad without fully understanding the situation. Yet other children may continue playing as per normal.
Different children may respond differently, and it is important to let your child express and grief in their own ways. For some, playing may be a form of distraction and coping mechanism for them. Don’t be surprised if your child asks you questions about the recent death even in the middle of their playtime – they are trying to process the changes in the way they are most comfortable with.
Offer assurance and stability
The aspect of a death in the family that affects children the most is when their lives are disrupted. They may suddenly wonder: “Will Mom and Dad leave me too?” and become fearful or more clingy than usual. Rather than dismiss these changes in your child, gently assure them and offer them more support during this time.
Young children tend to look to their parents or other adults for cues on how to feel and respond to situations. That is why taking care of yourself is also crucial. Ensure that you have adequate support, and that you are coping with your own grief in a healthy way.
Talking to your children about death in an honest and clear manner will help them understand better, and take away the fear surrounding the topic. If you need to bring your child along to a wake or funeral, do also explain about what they can expect to see before you go.
For example, if it is a Buddhist funeral service, let them know that they might see people offering incense and chanting prayers. Let them know why these are done, and how they should behave.
While you tend to your own grief and manage your child, it is beneficial to have the help of a funeral company in Singapore to handle all the planning. Here at 1Stop Buddhist Funeral Services, we are here to help you with that.