The process of telling a child that a loved one has died is influenced by factors such as age, beliefs, or whether they were a very important person in their life. However, there are some general recommendations that adults can consider before finalizing the conversation.
Throughout life, human beings must go through experiences and challenges that are difficult to bear. Perhaps one of the most complex is the duel a natural reaction that occurs after coping with the loss of a loved one and can trigger painful feelings.
Death is often an uncomfortable subject to talk about because we don’t know how to approach it appropriately. The task could be particularly difficult for parents or guardians, who sometimes feel fear thinking about the impact on children after sharing the news of the death of a loved one.
However, talking about death with children is meaningful and necessary. This is a natural part of the cycle of life and, at the same time, it allows children to have certainty about what is happening around them.
“Adults’ fear of broaching the subject of death comes from the fact that there are many interpretations of the information and we fear how our children will react.” explains Ester Laherrán, psychologist at Clínica Bupa Santiago.
“It is very common for adults to speak in front of children thinking that they are listening, but that is not true. They always tend to be very attentive to everything and can overhear fragments of conversations. » Add.
According to the specialist, if we find the appropriate time to talk about the events, children will not be forced to seek information in other ways that are not the most suitable and to draw their own conclusions about what is happening. .
It is for this reason, says Laherrán, “that it is important that there are responsible adults who accompany children in the construction of this new reality”.
Tips for talking about death with children
“The way we express our grief to children also prepares them to be able to cope with it tomorrow. It is a sad, difficult process, but one that you can overcome and then you will understand that it is part of the path. It’s better than not talking about it,” warns Claudia Maggi, academic at the School of Psychology at the University of the Andes.
A start to begin to approach this subject in a way that connects it to everyday situations they have seen, says the academic, such as the death of a pet.
We need to understand that every experience is personal and that what we might tell children about death will depend on several factors, such as age, maturity, cultural background, beliefs or whether it was a very important person in their life.
However, specialists assure that there are some general recommendations to follow when talking about the death of a person and during the process following bereavement.
1. Check if I am the right person to broach the subject with a child or teenager. Dealing with the sudden loss of a significant person can be so overwhelming that we may not be ready to immediately express it to our little ones and adequately resolve their questions. For this reason, the first thing is to recognize the emotions that we are feeling and if we are capable of doing so at that moment, or if it is better for another responsible adult to communicate them to the child.
2. Choose an intimate, quiet environment to communicate the news, where there is no interruption from other people.
3. Adapt to the age of the child and use appropriate language to relate the facts as clearly as possible, paying attention to what is said.
While it’s common to use euphemisms when talking about someone’s death, such as “he’s sleeping peacefully now” or “we lost him,” it’s best to keep explanations simple and concrete. According to Child Mind Institute of the United States, using these terms could confuse children or lead them to believe that the deceased person will return at some point.
If you ask questions during the conversation, you should answer them with the necessary information, without giving away all the details. “In young children, it is recommended to talk to them more frequently, but for short periods of time,” explains Laherrán.
4. Let him know that it’s okay to express his emotions. After communicating the facts, the child or adolescent may experience fear, sadness, isolation, loss of appetite, feelings of guilt or mood changes for no apparent cause.
In this sense, it is ideal for adults to provide spaces for conversation where there is validation and containment of the feelings of the little ones. “It is important to leave room for the expression of pain, so that they too can ask their questions,” explains the academic from the University of the Andes.
5. Offer your support. For the psychologist from Clínica Bupa, one of the most important measures that caregivers should take when children are grieving is to “give them security and presence”, so that they understand that they are not alone in the process.
Another useful tool in later moments is for the child or adolescent to know that it is valid to continue remembering that loved one, for example, through the experiences and moments they shared in the past and which unite them now. Of course, this memory should not hinder routines or life in general.
“There are people who have different rituals, like writing letters and leaving them at the cemetery. It’s part of the family identity, because that grandfather, uncle or father will always be there,” says Maggi.
Finally, it is important to understand that it is normal for the child or adolescent to express sadness and other associated emotions when processing a loss. However, when behavioral changes are exaggerated or prolonged over time, the ideal is to consult a mental health specialist, in this case a child and adolescent psychologist.
“Often we have emotional resources or life experiences that can help us, but sometimes being accompanied by a mental health professional allows these tools to develop, to support you in this process, to validate your emotions and not to judge yourself” phrase from Laherrán.
I am David Jack and I have been working in the news industry for over 10 years. As an experienced journalist, I specialize in covering sports news with a focus on golf. My articles have been published by some of the most respected publications in the world including The New York Times and Sports Illustrated.