Talking about Death and Dying
It can sometimes seem counterintuitive to discuss death and dying with children or young adults, yet it’s important for parents to have open, honest conversations around these topics. Death is inevitable and families must learn to cope with the grief and the sadness that come with it, regardless of age. Sharing honest, age-appropriate conversations about death and dying help kids better understand themselves, their families and the world around them. It’s also important to note that talking about mortality can teach young adults valuable lessons about empathy and resilience.
When to Start the Discussions
It may be uncomfortable for parents to bring up, but it’s important for conversations about death and dying to be age-appropriate and on going. Even toddlers can begin to understand the concept of death when it’s explained correctly. When kids learn about life’s fragility, they can begin developing empathy, which encourages them to think beyond their own wants and needs. Parents should be mindful of the language they use when talking with their kids and encourag dialogue to foster understanding.
It’s also important to be respectful of a family’s own emotions when broaching the topic and providing space for everyone to be heard. For example, if a parent experienced a difficult death in the past, it’s important to use this as an opportunity to illuminate the importance of self-care and understanding.
How to Talk and Connect With Them
It’s important to discuss the subject of death naturally and without judgment. Depending on the age and maturity of the child, there are a few topics that can be addressed when talking about mortality.
For toddlers and younger children, it’s important to introduce the concept of death in a way that’s gentle, yet informative. For example, parents can talk about visiting a cemetery or the ways in which a loved one will remain in their heart forever. Younger children need more physical and concrete demonstrations of death and it’s important to explain that death is irreversible.
As a child grows up, talking about death and dying can also explore themes like grief, resilience, understanding and comfort. The conversations between parent and child should still be supportive and non-judgemental, yet it’s important to leave room for discussion and comfort.
Provide an Important Perspective
It can be difficult for children to wrap their heads around the concept of death and the permanence of it. However, it’s important to provide them with an important perspective. Talk to them about how death is a part of life and how that’s natural and unavoidable. You can also talk to them about how we can continue to remember and honour those who’re passed away.
When talking to children and young adults about death, it’s important to think pragmatically and be mindful to the emotions of everyone involved. Talk to your kids with honesty, understanding and love and remind them that they can always come to you with questions.