As parents one of main responsibilities is to teach our children the life skills that they need in life.
One of those skills is being able to understand & cope with death.
We parents always want to shelter our kiddos from the pain that can bring. But sadly, whether it’s the death of a pet or a loved one, it’s inevitable.
And let’s be honest. Many of us have no earthly clue how to start the subject of death with kids.
When my mom passed away, the hospital brought in a “specialist”. She claimed she was the expert at talking to kids about death.
What she was instead was a quack. (Sorry not sorry for being rude).
She didn’t take into account that I was a preteen & preceded to talk to me about the magical world my mom was now living in.
Did I mention she did it with sock puppets??
This lesson in the grief series is focused on how to introduce your child to death & ways to help them cope.
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Introducing Children To Death
At their core, most kids already know about death. They see it all the time on tv. They just don’t truly understand it.
Key points to remember when talking to your child about death:
- Be honest & clear
- Make sure your being age appropriate
- Reinforce the support system that they have.
- Remind them that nothing is their fault
Avoid saying things like:
- They’re just sleeping
- They had to go away for awhile
- They’re no longer with us
Great Movies That Introduce Death
There are hundreds of movies out there that deal with death in some form.
But these particular movies really explain the complexities relating to death & the grieving process.
The Land Before Time is one of those movies that doesn’t hide the fact that it talks about death. But it does it in a relateable way for kids. The journey follows Littlefoot & his other dinosaur friends as he sets off to find the spirit of his mother.
This classic movie is just awesome. Not only is a music great but the story line shows the effects of death across all lines. From how it can affect you in adult life, to the emotional blaming, to support systems.
I admit when I first watched Up, I was caught off guard about how many real life struggles they covered in the first 10 minutes. And that includes death.
Without giving too much away the story follows Carl who struggles for years to cope with the death of this wife.
Bambi is one of those timeless movies that still hold truth about the world today. The story follows Bambi as he tries to live after the death of his mother.
Coco nails everything about death. Although the skeletons can seem off putting, they’re actually not scary at all. Follow Miguel as he enters the after life with his ancestors in order to be able to live his dream of playing music.
This movie focuses not only on death but the bonds & importance of family.
I can’t say too much about this movie without giving important things away. But, I can say that it a story about a magical journey & the death of a friend.
Harry Potter Series
This may be my favorite movie series of all time. From beginning to end the movie covers the cycle of death from the moment it happens, to how it affects everyone, to children trying to find their way after loosing a parent, to healing.
There are also some very powerful underlying themes within each movie. Such as, the love of a parent always being with you; especially in times of need.
The Best Books That Talk About Death
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
When Dinosaurs Die by Laurie Krasny Brown
God Gave Us Heaven by Lisa T. Bergren
Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: Remembering Blue Fish by Becky Friedman
Follow Up Questions To Ask:
- How do the main characters act in the beginning?
- Did you notice them change?
- Was anybody sad in the movie? Why?
- What made them happy?
- Did you like the movie?
- Could you relate?
Helping Children Cope With Death
Before we jump into how to help children cope with grief, let’s remember that you’re different from them.
Your mind & their’s will process information differently & the way that they handle emotions is unique to them.
Keep in mind that you may see regression of earlier behaviors such as bed wetting.
You may also see spikes in emotions that could cause extreme tantrums.
Some children may even retreat into themselves.
Be mindful of your reactions to your child’s reactions. Your criticisms & outbursts can further impact your child in negative ways.
Drawing A Picture
You want to help your child express their feelings without keeping things bottled up.
Sometimes having them draw a picture & then following it up with a conversation about it is a great way to start.
Related: How To Start An Art Journal
Grieving is a long process.
It doesn’t happen overnight or even within a week. Be patient & offer them support.
Build A Scrapbook
Encourage your child to make a scrapbook of memories.
Building a scrapbook together is a greeting bonding experience for both parent & child.
While putting it together be sure to:
- Tell stories
- Laugh at funny memories
- Embrace the life that you were able to share with your loved one.
Kids need structure. And there’s a certain sense of peace in having a set routine.
As soon as things start to settle a little, jump back into the normal routine.
If something is changing in the routine be sure to let them know the change.
For example, if Grandma used to pick your son up from school everyday but Grandma has died, then simply say how it will be fixed.
“Aunt Ally will be here everyday after school to pick you up. You know she loves your hugs so be sure to give her extra. “
It’s ok to still grief & things will be off for a awhile but kids need to understand that life continues.
Share The Grief
More than likely you are grieving too.
It’s fine to let your child know that you’re sad too. Our children follow our cues & mimic our behaviors.
If they see you hiding your emotions or being angry all the time, the chances are higher of them reacting the same way.
On the other side, if they see you expressing your feelings then that increases the odds of them doing the same.
Seek Professional Help
We can’t always DIY our problems.
If you or your child have a difficult time coping with your grief of a loved one, then seek professional help.
Other Ways To Help Kids Deal With Loss
- Plant a tree
- Release balloons
- Write in a grief journal
- Art therapy
- Listen to music
- Take on a new hobby together such as cooking or a craft.
There is no definitive way to how your child will grieve.
Keep in mind that you need to be supportive, encouraging, & flexible.
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