The death of a loved one is the most painful emotional experience human beings have.
Unfortunately, it can happen that children experience situations of grief and loss from a very young age. Sometimes it can be the death of their pet, which they are very fond of. Other times, however, it can be the loss of a grandparent, a parent or a person very dear to him. The experience of death, therefore, can affect them very closely. This is why it is essential to understand how to talk about death to children, in order to help them in such a painful and heartbreaking moment.
The task of those close to children is extremely complex and delicate. The suffering of children scares us a lot and, often, the tendency is to protect them from that pain. Sometimes, people pretend (as far as possible) that nothing has happened. There is no talk of it, believing, in this way, to alleviate the child's suffering. Furthermore, those who are close to the little one and have the precious role of supporting him in such a complex moment are often equally torn by the pain of the loss. This makes everything even more complex and painful. But children need to be able to ask questions. They need to speak, ask and share their pain. But how to deal with the situation in the best way?
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO TALK ABOUT DEATH TO CHILDREN?
It is not easy for adults to talk to children about death, because they too are immersed in pain and suffering. However, it is important to help children understand what is happening, allowing them to talk about these issues too.
It is necessary to explain to the children what happened, adapting to their age and their level of development. Sometimes, for over- protection, we tend to hide (where possible) what happened, through invented stories of voluntary and temporary expulsion. For example, the grandfather went on a long journey. Or: the aunt will be away for a long time. This is very reassuring to people who have to report the loss to the child, but it can be very misleading and dangerous. The little ones are like sponges and are very receptive to their surroundings. They realize the discrepancy between what is communicated to them and the emotions that circulate in the house. For example, they may wonder why their grandfather left without saying goodbye. Or ask yourself why mum and dad are also very sad, if the uncle has just gone on a trip.
Furthermore, children listen to the speeches of adults and immediately realize that something is wrong. The risk, among other things, is that a sort of taboo is created on what happened and that the children feel obliged not to talk and not to ask questions, so as not to further hurt those around them. The sensitivity of children is often overlooked. Many times, in fact, children do not ask questions for fear of exacerbating the pain of those around them.
It is therefore important, albeit very difficult, to talk about death to children. This even if they are very small. Obviously, adapting to the age and development level of the children. This also helps them in the difficult process of mourning.
HOW TO TALK ABOUT DEATH TO CHILDREN?
There are no right words to say or phrases made in these situations. It is important, however, to convey some important messages about the situation. While some things are particularly difficult to accept, it can be risky to give children false hope. Explaining in a reassuring way, respecting the individuality of the children, becomes fundamental. Speaking in a simple and clear way helps children, but also adults, to begin to elaborate slowly what is happening.
- IRREVERSIBILITY. Although terrible, it is necessary to explain to the children that unfortunately the loved one will no longer be able to be with them, at least in the way he always did. It may always be present, but in a different way. While saying this out loud hurts us, it is very important for the baby. Together, however, with the passage of time, new ways can be found to feel close to the person who has passed away.
- UNINTENTIONALITY. It is good to make it clear that the loved one did not want to abandon the child, unhinging that sense of omnipotence that children tend to attribute to adults. It is difficult to make children understand, especially when they are very young. This, however, is very important. This discourse takes on problematic characteristics, however, when the loved one voluntarily decides to take their own life. If the person took his own life through suicide, the situation is even more complex for the children and, of course, for their family members to deal with. Some reflections on this delicate subject can be found here.
- SENSE OF GUILT. If guilt emerges in the child, it is important to take the time to convey that he has no role in the death of a loved one. If the child does not have thoughts of this type, however, it is good to avoid stimulating fantasies that could further confuse him.
TALK ABOUT DEATH TO CHILDREN TO HELP THEM GIVE MEANING
Children, especially in certain stages of life, ask themselves a thousand questions. They want to know the why of everything around them, to understand the meaning of the world and of life. Usually people close to the child have no difficulty in giving simple answers, but the problem arises when faced with situations where not even we adults know how to give an explanation. The death of a loved one is one of them. We can help the child process what he is experiencing with stories. Talking to children about death helps to slowly transform the tragedy into a story, which can become part of a family belief and take on a very important meaning for the whole family.
SUPPORT FOR PARENTS TO TALK ABOUT DEATH TO CHILDREN
It is not easy to talk to children about death, especially when it involves a loved one. Parents or caregivers are also involved in the excruciating pain of loss. For this reason, meetings aimed at caregivers (who takes care of the child) can be useful, in order to provide emotional support, as well as to get practical indications on how to move. These interviews can be useful to offer a space for personal elaboration to the adult that allows to foster awareness of the child's needs.