Talking to children about death
In preparing for the upcoming National Depression Screening Day on Oct. 11, conversation around children and how they handle death has again become a topic of discussion.
"What do you say?" "How direct should you be?" are common questions asked of therapist and case management staff of the West Yavapai Guidance Clinic.
Following are tips offered by the National Mental Health Association to help a child overcome loss:
Children are concrete in their thinking. To lessen confusion, avoid expressions such as "passed on," or "went to sleep." Answer their questions about death simply and honestly. Only offer details that they can absorb.
Children can be fearful about death and the future. Don't offer false comfort. Give them a chance to talk about their fears and validate their feelings. Offer a simple expression of sorrow and take time to listen.
Children are repetitive in their grief. Respond patiently to their uncertainty and concerns. It can take a long time to recover from a loss.
Children are physical in their grief. Watch their bodies, understand and support their play and actions as their "language" of grief. Offer reassurance.
Children grieve cyclically. Expect their grief to revisit in cycles throughout their childhood or adolescence. A strong reminder, such as the anniversary of a death, may reawaken grief.
Children need choices. Whenever possible, offer choices in what they do or don't do to memorialize the deceased and ways to express their feelings about the death.
Children grieve as part of a family. Expect children to mourn the deceased and the environment that existed before the death. Children may grief the "changed" behavior of family and friends. Keep regular routines as much as possible.
Long-term denial of death or avoidance of grief is unhealthy for children and may resurface later with more severe problems.