Thereís never an easy way to talk to your children about death. Here are a few tips for when you need to cross this bridge.
At some stage, you will have to talk to your children about death. It could be due to the death of a family member, a friend, a beloved family pet, or a character from a book, TV show or movie. When the time comes, will you know what to say? I didnít.
My daughters are aged almost 4 and almost 2, and we have just experienced the sad passing of a family member. It's someone they've met on several occasions, and because we had to fly interstate to attend the funeral, I wanted to be as honest as I could about why we were flying to Ďgrandmaís houseí and Ďwhy great-grandpa would no longer be at his little house with the doorbellí (they loved the novelty of ringing the doorbell, as we donít have one at home.) I simply couldn't brush off my inquisitive eldest daughterís questions with vague responses.
So, here are some tips for talking to your children about death, based on my experience.
Face your own fears
When someone we know dies, itís a reminder of our own mortality. The thought that we will no longer be here one day to see our children and the people we love is scary. But itís also a natural part of life and unfortunately something that you may have to accept. There are a number of reasons you may want to avoid talking to your children about death until they are older, but your own fears shouldnít be one of them.
Donít stress if they donít understand
As I said, my children are both under 5. My almost 4 year old understood bits of what I was saying, but my youngest daughter was oblivious. Itís highly likely they wonít fully understand for another few years, but I still felt it was good to try and have a conversation with them about what was going on, and then at least I could say I tried.
Stick to your beliefs
Whether you believe everyone goes to heaven, or in reincarnated, or that death is being asleep forever, stick to what you believe in. Thereís no right or wrong way to do this, but itís easier if you and other family members are on the same page about which direction to take.
Talk about a previous death to help with understanding
My mum had a dear old Maltese-Shihtzu named Oskar, who met an untimely death last year. When explaining the death of our family member, my husband talked to our eldest about Oskar, and how he had died, and wasnít going to wake up again. He was gone. Iím not sure the tactic worked, but it may be beneficial for older kids.
If you don't have a real life example, think of some of the famous yet sad storylines involving death that your children have come across in books and seen in movies. At our house this includes Finding Nemo, Frozen and Cinderella. When my daughter first watched Frozen, she asked me what happened to Anna and Elsaís parents. I just said they went away and were never coming back, so it was simple enough for her to process for her age.
Be prepared to talk before or after the funeral
This is where the bulk of the questions came in. Until this point the kids really didnít understand what was happening, until they saw the closed casket at the funeral home and a picture of great-grandpa on a huge TV screen. My eldest wanted to know what the casket was, why was great-grandpa on the TV, why were people crying, and where was grandpa? I told her that Ďheís sleeping in the box, and people are crying because they are sad.í This is what she proceeded to tell people when she got back to kindergarten.
I do hope in all of this advice there is something you can use and that it prepares you better for the chat when it happens.