Before I had children I had a huge list of things, that I as a parent felt sure that I wasn't ever going to do, and one of those things was talking about death, I truly believed that you have your whole life to take things seriously and to worry, I believed that worry shouldn't be put onto a child's shoulders, after all death is sometimes hard to comprehend as an adult, but when you are a child there is so much confusion and they have far more time to worry and become upset.
After Easter, the subject of death has become very popular with Liam, he had learned about Jesus on the cross and his resurrection at school and had lots of questions, for a while I tried to ignore the constant questions and I did the whole nice thing telling him that you went to the sky and you could play in the clouds, but to be quite honest I knew he didn't believe me, the questions were repetitive almost everyday, it was almost as if he knew I was lying. The thing is I wasn't lying I was just trying to protect him from something I knew would upset him.
Until this question "Mummy I could hurt someone and then they would come back to life"
It was in that moment, I realised you cant protect them or lie to them because it brings confusion and there was no way I wanted him thinking he could go round hurting people and they would come back to life like Jesus.
The trouble is if we leave children alone with fears and misunderstandings, they can grow and grow. We need to talk to children about dying so that the myths don’t take over, and so that they don’t feel isolated or guilty about what they think. It’s much better to have helped your child to have an understanding of death, funerals, burial and cremation before being confronted with these things when someone close to them dies. I have learned children are never to young to talk about death and dying.
Talking to a child about death and dying isn't easy, it is a difficult subject all round to approach but I have found ignoring questions that a child has can make a situation far worse, your child needs to know that it is alright to ask even if you feel you don't have all the answers.
- Listen to the question your child is asking has even if you think it is silly, to them they need real answers.
- Use language that a child can understand using words such as "passed away" can leave a child confused.
- Don't tell them things like People only die when they're old, as it is not true and can cause future confusion and upset.
- Try to answer questions as soon as they arise, as a child's attention span is limited.
- Use life examples such as insects that have died or the leaves on the trees dying to show them that all things have to die.
- Get your child to repeat back to you what you have told them so you know they have an understanding of what you have taught them.
- reassure them it is alright to feel sad and upset, as naturally they are going to feel that way, just be there to support them by listening and talking through it with them.
- If you feel that you don't know the answer to a question tell your child that but tell them you will find out the answer.
- Ask them what they're thinking about what you have told them
- Remember that children of different ages will differ in what they understand the younger the child the more literal they will take what you are say so be honest.
I think the biggest thing I have learnt along the way from discussions with Liam is that I can't, no matter how hard I try, is to protect him from death. It is something that they are going to come across a lot through out there childhoods, whether it is a dead bird in the garden or a close relative or maybe even just and Easter story, but whatever the case maybe it is always going to be just as hard or harder for a child to understand as it is for grown ups.