Explaining Death to Children – Bergen County

Morrisa Drobnick, LCSW, staff writer and advice columnist of “KIDS Magazine” answers questions about children and grief and bereavement.

Preschool children cannot understand that death is permanent and non-reversible; therefore, they do not see death the way teens and adults do. When someone they know dies, young children do not always express grief through tears, so we can miss the signs that they are grieving. The way we handle the death of a loved one teaches our children a lot about life.

Morrisa asks her readers how they have explained death to their children.

Don’t say the deceased is “sleeping” – this makes the children afraid to go to sleep at night. Don’t say that sickness caused death. Children may remember this and associate all sickness with death. Allow the children to, at least, attend the funeral home. If they don’t get to say goodbye, they may always feel that the deceased person left them. Above all, be simple but honest in answering the questions. Allow them to grieve, and let them know that you have feelings of sadness and loneliness, too.
– Sara Clutter, Washington PA

My three-year-old daughter attended the funeral and pre-funeral functions when her great-grandmother died. We answered all her questions in terms she could understand and without fear. I feel her participation was the key.
– Linda Von Fumetti, Des Moines, IA

Flowers were sent to me after the death of my sister. Each day I had my 2 ½ year old daughter help me pick the wilted flowers from the arrangement. I explained to her how all living things eventually die. The wilted flowers were dead, so they were taken away. We could still look at and enjoy the living flowers. I waited until she asked me about her aunt then reminded her about the flowers. We couldn’t see or smell the flowers anymore, nor could we hug or play with Auntie, but we could always remember how much we loved her.
– Laurel Merrifield, Franklin, NH

I explained to my four-year old daughter that life was similar to a book: It must have a beginning and an ending even when we wish it could continue.
– Vickie Trent-Wilson, Cedar Falls, IA

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grief and kids