Explain the Death of a Parent to a Small Child

Edited by Ian Gabriel T. Tolledo, Eng, Robbi, Lynn and 1 other

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Introduction

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How do you explain death to someone who isn't even aware that such a thing exists? How do you say that the person who brought him or her into the world is gone forever? How do you reassure him that everything is going to be alright?

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It's never easy to explain someone's death to anyone, much less a death of a parent to a small child. However, doing so is inevitable and the faster the child understands the concept of death and dying, the better he or she can adjust to the situation. Below are steps you can follow:

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Things to know prior to "the talk"

You are treading on thin ice here. You can either make or break the child if you rush in and haphazardly inform the child of his or her parent's death. Now if you're the remaining parent, you may also be suffering on your own; do not let this seep into your conversation with your child.

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  1. 1
    Know where to start.
    Think through the whole situation and the circumstances that LED to the death of a parent. You WILL NOT say in detail all the things which the parent suffered to the child. Pick your words and do not incorporate morbid words when you speak to the child. Words like torture, corpse, graveyard, blood, etc., are definite no-nos.
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  2. 2
    Be honest.
    You must be honest with the child, and do not discourage them when they ask questions, although you may not have answers to most of them. If you don't know the answer to a particular question, like "Is mommy in heaven now?", then just say so, and say it mildly to her.
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  3. 3
    Environment.
    As much as possible, you should create an atmosphere of comfort and openness, and send subtle hints that there's no right or wrong way to feel. You can even share any spiritual beliefs you have personally about death.
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  4. 4
    Meltdown.
    Prepare a glass of water and a face tissue beforehand. While some child can take the news with bravery, others can't, especially when its their parent.
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The Talk

  1. 1
    Kids under the age of 6 view the world very literally.
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    You should try to explain the death of his or her parent in concrete and basic terms. If the parent dies because of an accident, you can just explain what happened and because of the situation, daddy or mommy's body stopped working. Substitute "dead" and "dying" with "the body has stopped working". If the parent died due to a sickness, you can explain to the child that the doctors couldn't fix the body because it's not working anymore.
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  2. 2
    Most of the time, children this young have a problem understanding the finality of death and that all living things in the world will eventually die.
    This can be frustrating as the child may continue to ask when the person is returning and where he is, even after you said it couple of times. Calmly repeat it if you must, explain that a person who died cannot come back again.
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  3. 3
    Never make the mistake of talking in euphemisms.
    Examples of these are "went to sleep", "went some place far", or "lost" when explaining the death of a loved one to a child. They will think of it as literal terms and explanations and can make an impression on them that the person hasn't really died and will come back again. Also, such phrases may cause the child to be afraid when someone leaves.
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  4. 4
    Some children ask deeper questions that are way beyond the actual meaning of what they are saying.
    For example, if a child asks you where his parent is now, he might not even been thinking of an afterlife. Rather, the child may just be satisfied if you tell him that his parent is in the cemetery.
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  5. 5
    As the child matures, he or she will naturally understand the concept of death and dying.
    If he or she comes to you for explanations as to the reasons of these, answer him or her as best as you can.
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  6. 6
    Comfort the child and reassure him or her that you will always be there by his or her side if he or she needs you, although the child may not understand everything what you said.
    Stay by his or her side at all times specially if it seems that the news has really baffled or broken him or her.
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3 C's to Remember after "The Talk"

  1. 1
    Connection.
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    Losing a family member can make the whole family feel incomplete and fractured. It's normal to withdraw for a while, but this can make the children feel extra lonely as he or she sees the change in the atmosphere. It is important that your child feel that he is still connected to the parent who died and to you as well.
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  2. 2
    Care.
    Physical care is important during these times. Give the child plenty of hugs and kisses. Grieving can take a toll on the body and can be a really lonely experience for the child, as well as for you. You may ask other family members and friends to assist you to care for the child in the weeks following the death of a loved one, especially when your own grief is taking its toll on you.
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  3. 3
    Continuity.
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    It is very important for the surviving parent or guardian to allow the child to continue his or her normal activities at home, school or the community if possible. You can also talk to the teacher about the situation as soon as possible in order for them to adjust and give extra support to the child.
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Tips, Tricks and Warnings

  • Children can react to death in a variety of ways. Be prepared to understand and keep the child comfortable and at ease at all times.
  • The child may engage in odd behaviors like playing dead. This is normal, despite being morbid. Don't discourage this because this might be his or her way to work through her emotions. Be ready when she's ready to talk.
  • Children needs continuity of normal activities, so give them plenty of hugs and cuddles. Connect with them so that he will know that everything will be alright.
  • If you have problems with any of these steps, ask a question for more help, or post in the comments section below.

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Article Info

Categories : Parenting

Recent edits by: Lynn, Robbi, Eng

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