- 1 in 5 children lose someone close to them before the age 18.
- 1.5 million children live in single family homes because one parent has died.
- About 73,000 children die every year and they leave behind a sibling.
How are you suppose to explain to your child or children that according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the life expectancy is 78 years old? How are you suppose to go into detail of what does that really mean? How do you even begin to explain what death is or what can cause death, which is literally everything. How can you put it in the sweetest way possible that a special person will not be returning, that special person will only be seen through pictures? How?
As parents, as teachers, as role models, how are you suppose to explain to your child how to cope with death? How are parents suppose to watch their child suffer from emotional pain? As teachers, how are you suppose to encourage a student to be social after dealing with a death? How are teachers suppose to influence students to stay productive?
Dealing with death at any age can be overwhelming and traumatizing and without the proper resources, death can distract a person from living and per using their own lives.
Are there even ways to prepare for death? Are there ways to prevent death? Why do people have to die? These may be some of the questions children may ask or have asked.
NO! There is no proper way to prepare for death. NO, we can not prevent death. People die because people live.
I know that may sound scary to a 6 year old but it is much more understandable once explained.
How can people help children understand that we live to die, one day we will all have to die and that is just the circle of LIFE?!?!
As a child I grew up watching the Lion King. I find this movie to be helpful with many life lessons. There are a lot of hidden messages that as a child you don’t notice because you are too busy singing all the songs. I watch that movie daily, not only because I am a mom but because I find that movie to have helped me prepare for the real world. If you have seen the movie then you know that Simba’s father, Mufasa died not even a half an hour into the movie. Simba being the young cub thought that he could save his father, but death has no time or place. The time it comes, the time people go. Simba felt sad and ran away and in that time he lived with guilt and pain. No one explained to him what death was or how to deal with it when it does come. As Simba got older, he began to discover his true strength and who he was; The King, himself, and his father was within him. Simba understood that his father lived on. Not only through memories and the dedication he put in the land, but he lives through Simba. Simba lived by completing his father unfinished dreams; that is what I mean, when I say WE LIVE TO DIE.
The way that death will be understood will depend all on the age of the child. Many children will respond and react differently when it comes to death. Before explaining to children how to cope with death you must first make sure your child or children understand the “concepts of death”. By the children understanding what the concepts of death are, they will have a better way of how they want to cope with death.
Here are the 4 concepts of death:
- Irreversibility: Death is forever. People do no return.
- Finality: The world does not stop moving with death.
- Inevitably: All living things must die. That is universal. You can not skip out or stop death.
- Causality: How is death caused?
Do children remember?
“Four children lined up in all white in front of a room full of people with their heads down. The music playing on repeat. The weather was warm outside, but inside was almost as cold as an ice box. People still coming in and out with their heads down. The lights were dim but shined on the four in white. People yelling out why? Kissing each child as they walk pass. Behind the four children, there she laid with her eyes closed. Hands over her chest but we couldn’t see lower than that. Were all these people here to see us? Were all these people here to see her? Sunflower seeds decorated this comfy bed she laid in and there were two blow pops in her ponytail. The crazy thing is that she looked the exact way she looked when she was awake. Was she going to wake up? Why couldn’t she see the rest of her body? And it happened, they closed the bed she was laying in. Why would they close someone in the bed if they are sleeping? Why are we leaving and she is laying there? The song still played but as people were exiting the volume increased. On that morning when this life is over I know I’ll see your face. Say goodbye to your mother children, a voice called out. The children packed in the car and hit the highway. This ride felt like forever, maybe it was forever. Finally they arrived. A yard filled with special flowers sticking out the ground. It was a lot. Row after row. We drove deeper and deeper in this yard. We come to a stop by a group of people. Wow these are the same people that left her laying there. Why are they standing around this hole. Wow this is a big hole and its deep. Wow someone’s bed is in there. What are we doing here? Slowly they start approaching the hole with her bed. What are they doing with my mother’s bed? Was she still in there because she is not standing here with me? Why are they putting her bed on top of this bed? Why are they throwing dirt on top of her bed? Is no one going to stop this? The four children stood there and watched without a sound. People still screaming why? But now people are hugging and kissing each child goodbye.” 1996 Yes children remember!
Many parents and teachers may comfort a child differently then another child. The way a toddler copes with death is much different then the way a teen copes with death. Despite the age death affects everyone. Death is coped with differently. It is our jobs as role models to comfort them. It is our job to give children other resources on how to cope with death.
How to approach your child when coping with a death?
Dealing with small children such as infants and toddlers they may and will understand death differently. Small children will mimic the adults actions and expressions. Many small children may not understand what death is, but they do understand mommy and daddy are crying or when mommy and daddy are just not themselves for the past few days. When dealing with death your approach with small children will have to be very hands on. Infants and toddlers may become disruptive because of the change in their routine due to a death. To avoid this, it is recommended to comfort your children. Make them feel safe and secure. Infants and toddlers already require a lot of attention, but when it deals with death they require much more of your presence. It will help them understand that people may be getting sad and overwhelmed, but they are still functioning and I mean emotionally functioning.
Helping preschool age children cope with death may be much different then the way to help a toddler or a teen cope. Most preschool children know what death is and that is because of the animated cartoon shows. When coping with death, preschool children need to hear straight forward words opposed to “this person is sleeping”. Those words can be very scary. This can cause a child to fear going to sleep. It is ok to use the words death. You have to find safety words. Be prepared to deal with a load of questions. It is ok to let it be known that you don’t know, but do not leave a question without attempting to answer it.
Here are 5 things to help your preschooler:
- Give out a lot of hugs and kisses.
- Use arts and crafts in everyday activities such as drawing at dinner time.
- Keep them active (as always).
- Try to avoid using the word death too much but if it comes up talk with your children.
- Find a new hobby.
When helping a school aged child, first you must help them understand the difference between something universal and a final event. Many school aged children have a hard time dividing those two things. With school aged children you must not only answer their questions, but you must re-question them. This will give them a better understanding of death. Speak with children daily. Try to influence many conversations and encourage your child to join in. Ask them their opinion, their thoughts and dreams. Explain the types of death to school aged children. This will help them cope. This will also take the blame or guilt off of them. Be consistent. Do things on a routine, make traditions to follow. This will reassure them. They will need it. They need to know that you or another person close to them will not die tomorrow. Comfort them.
Here are 5 things to help your school aged child:
- Assure them that everyone who is sick will not die.
- Know your health. Discuss what health is and how to stay healthy.
- Let your child know that love is around him and everyone loves them.
- Keep your movement. Stay motivated and active.
- Make sure you as the adult is coping with death the right way. Children are sponges, so they mimic the adult behavior. Set the example.
When trying to help teenagers cope they have a lot more understanding about what death is and why it happens. Just because teenagers have a lot more understanding, that does not mean they know how to cope or have proper ways to cope. Teens often have a hard time to express themselves, they usually bottle up emotions and wait for an exploration to happen. Teens may get involved in daring activities which can cause risking events. Many teens find it difficult to cope with death because like many other things in life, it is out of their control. Have patience with your teen, give them time and give them space, but still have your expectations of how to demonstrate positive behavior and responses.
Here are 5 ways to help your teen:
- Exercises can reduce tight muscles in the body. Loosing these up will help your teen relax better.
- Listen to slow or calming music. Does not have to be mediation or jazz, but a good R&B song can help. Find songs with melodies and extra hidden sounds like chimes or bells.
- Arts and crafts always help. This can mean writing or drawing.
- Speak with another person, find a outside sources.
- Be an example. Show healthy coping skills, get healthy coping results.
Children need comfort and reassurance and security. Coping with death does not have to be alone. Explain to your child or teens that coping with death will affect anyone of any age. Show them that it is ok to express their feelings by expressing yours.
Before you break the news to any child about death you must first know what to expect. Expect that every child is different so they will act differently. Do not fault children for the way they feel about death.
- Denial – Does not want to believe or accept what is being told.
- Confusion – Does not understand what is happening.
- Anger – Can be hurtful.
- Sadness – Very anti-social.
- Guilt – Feels like this is happening because of them.
- Loneliness – Being surrounded only by the thoughts in their mind. Does not want to be involved with the population.
Signs to look out for when children are coping with death:
Immature behavior like whining, being clingy or thumb sucking.
SCHOOL AGED CHILDREN
May have trouble sleeping or physical pain in their head or stomachs.
Self harm or substance abuse.
Where do people go when they die?
There is no right or wrong answer for this. Be honest with your children. This depends all on the parents judgement. Give them an answer. If children walk away from this as they get older they may create fictional stories in their minds about what death really is.
How do you prepare your child for a funeral?
First figure out what does your child know about death. You do not want to overwhelm your child with random information. Also, do not question them too much. Explore what is going through their mind.
What is the purpose of a funeral?
The purpose for a funeral is for people to celebrate and remember the life they had. This is the time where people are able to celebrate and remember the life they had. This is the time where people say their thank yous and goodbyes.
What will they see at a funeral?
Prepare your child on what they might see. Be sure to guide them into knowing what to expect. Funerals can be very scary and it is not our job to scare the children. Explain to them what kind of emotions they will see at the funeral. Some people may laugh, some may cry, some people may even get angry, but assure them that, that is ok.
Before explaining to children what they will see in the casket, make sure they know what a casket is and make sure you as the parent or educator know what kind of funeral it will be, open casket or closed casket?
What is a casket?
Try not to decorate this question too much. There is no need to add too much. A casket is a special box that holds the body in place. The inside of the casket is layered with pillows and the person may look different because of the extra makeup.
You can also take a trip down to a funeral home so your child can see what it looks like.
Survey from Grieving in Schools: Nationwide Survey by NY Life Foundation and American Federation of Teachers 2012
Teachers deal with a lot of students who come into school after suffering from a death. In this survey teachers observed the behaviors and actions of students. This also helps teachers help children in a time like this.
87% loss of attention
82% become anti-social
72% miss classes and some may not return
68% not enthusiastic about class work
66% become irresponsible and miss assignments
How do you explain to a 7 year old that death is something that just happens? Something that just happens? How do you explain why does this happen? How does this happen? When does it happen? How do you explain that this is something you are unable to answer? How are children supposed to understand death, if a friend died from a car accident and grandma died from old age and uncle Bob died from cancer? Is there a such things as good death and bad death? Will children become scared to live? Will they become scared to die? How do you explain that this is unpreventable but this is something you can prepare for. How are you supposed to comfort children when they lose a loved one, when they lose a friend, when they lose a pet, a plant or a teacher?
RECOMMENDED BOOKS FOR CHILDREN COPING WITH DEATH:
Death is Stupid
By Anatatasia Higginbotham
AVAILABLE VIA AMAZON
Bio: This books describes common emotions children have revolving around death. This book also gives children a way how to celebrate life.
Where Do They Go?
By Julia Alvarez
Serious and Meaningful
AVAILABLE VIA AMAZON
Bio: This book answers many of the deep questions children ask. The who’s, the what’s and the where’s about death.
The Goodbye Book
By Todd Parr
AVAILABLE VIA AMAZON
Bio: This book is about animals death and how to say goodbye in the simplest way.
Tuesdays with Morrie
by Mitch Albom
A book for teens and adults
AVAILABLE VIA AMAZON
I find this book to be very helpful for older children and teens, also parents. This book describes in each chapter the feelings and the why’s of death. I find this book to help understand what is going on through a person’s mind before death. Each chapter is a different topic like marriage, love, work and other everyday activities before death.
This story is about an old professor and his grad student. Years later the lessons of his life and the lessons from his college course still lives on and is mirrored by his student. The student watches his professor die slowly as a disease starts to eat his lungs. The student watched his teacher live a lesson and still display a positive attitude.
“Sometimes you can not believe what you see, you have to believe what you feel. And if you ever going to have other people trust you, you must feel that you can when your in the dark. Even when your falling” – Morrie
How can yoga and meditation practice help mentally prepare a child or teen for death?
Yoga is a practice that not only do you need to concentrate on one thing, but you also have to understand and let the mind take power over the body. Yoga has a purpose. This can be helpful coping with death because after suffering a lost life can feel like there is no purpose. Practicing yoga you can become in control of what you want, you become in control of your breath, you control your body movements and you control the focus of your eyes. Yoga teaches you to trust how you feel. Yoga can become uncomfortable without practice and this is how you restrain the pain by keep focus on your mind. Emotional pain has no pin point and with yoga you are able to identify where the pain is coming from and why is coming.
Take 20 minutes before bedtime and practice this with your children. The day can be busy and loud, take this time in silence. This can also help with any nightmares children may have. This calm transition is perfect for not only coping with death but dealing with everything in life. In the morning you and your child can dedicate 5 minutes before you walk out the door and deal with the busy day, sit in a chair, back straight, chin up, and hands open. Count down from 100. Slowly watching your breath. 100, 99, 98, 97 ,96…..
10 yoga steps
We know death is not a friendly topic to discuss, but it is something that we have to discuss. It is our job as parents, educators and friends to protect our children from hurting, which is impossible but we can protect them from staying hurt. As a parent I can say that is almost impossible, but there are ways to make the journey easier. Death is just one of those things that will come. It is our job to reassure our children that it is ok to be scared of death, but there is no need to rush death. Life is beautiful and life has many amazing path waiting for them to explore and they need to know that. Let them know they have months, years, decades of adventures to take on. Show them how to enjoy life; how life can be FUN!
The death topic does not have to be so sad after all. It is alright to cope. It is alright to cry. “I give myself a good cry if I need it. But then I concentrate on all the good things still in my life.” – Morrie