How to talk with a child about the loss of a parent

niklas
Posts: 124
Joined: 13 Jun 2011, 16:27

How to talk with a child about the loss of a parent

Postby niklas » 06 Aug 2013, 00:51

My uncle has died suddenly from a stroke today and he left behind his wife and my cousin that is 3 years old. My cousin has spent a lot of time here with my family since she was born and they both stay here now as the mother is in despair and can't take care of her child properly. My cousin is in the belief that her father just fell and is in the hospital, but we agreed on telling her tomorrow that he is dead. And I pointed out that it's important to describe what happened in as a concrete, simple and clear manner as possible and refrain from euphemisms and magical thinking. Instead of saying "he fell asleep" or "he flew away", saying something like "daddies body stopped working" and making clear that he wont come back. Because euphemisms are there to make adults feel better really, rather than to support the child to understand what happened. Children doesn't need to be protected from the natural parts of life, but rather needs common sense guidance and concrete answers, and they seem better at coping with such things than adults really.

Are there any other points that one should consider when telling a child that her parent has died?



User avatar
Anna
Posts: 3724
Joined: 12 Jun 2011, 20:17
Location: Uppsala, Sweden
Contact:

Re: How to talk with a child about the loss of a parent

Postby Anna » 06 Aug 2013, 07:54

When my father died when I was seven, I didn't understand at all what it meant. So I am not sure if a three year old will understand it. Basically I didn't react much because I had no reference to death or that it was supposed to be sad or anything. So therefore, yes simply explain it as simple as possible. However what I'd focus more on is explaining to her why her mom is reacting the way she is, because that is probably what will affect her more. What I would also focus on is simply explaining it to her without emotional reactions that she could then internalize. So simply something like: "Dad is dead, it means his body stopped working and he won't be coming back. Mommy is sad because she is going to miss him a lot." She might not understand it and so I wouldn't focus too much on her understanding it, because it's a very young age to lose a parent. So you can simply explain it and then if/when she starts asking questions, simply answer them as clear as possible.



User avatar
sylvia
Posts: 926
Joined: 14 Jun 2011, 23:02

Re: How to talk with a child about the loss of a parent

Postby sylvia » 06 Aug 2013, 07:58

That's quite something Niklas and the child is still so young. What I learned in psychology classes, as a social worker, is that a child of that age can't grasp the concept of what it means that someone is dead and never returns. Children this age can't reason and can't work with cause and effect is what is taught in school, though I do not really know if this is so in fact. I see it as important that when you guys speak with the child about the father and him not returning is to keep the words you speak free of emotions and feelings, which must be quite difficult at this stage. So to clear one self first before confronting the child with it, so that she has the ability to grasp this point without the emotions and feelings of her family to be added in the equation. Most children experience first the dead of a pet, which is already a test case of how the child reacts and handles the concept of death. She needs to understand/realize/see what dead is really about and that will not be at this age I recon. So within the years coming the child must have the possibility to ask about it or talk about it with her relatives.



niklas
Posts: 124
Joined: 13 Jun 2011, 16:27

Re: How to talk with a child about the loss of a parent

Postby niklas » 06 Aug 2013, 20:32

Thanks Anna and Sylvia, great support. It's like she is grasping it at some level and at another level not. She is talking a lot about dead flowers and animals that she sees in the garden, although she seems to believe that her dad will come back somehow. We will be here to support her and answer all her questions. And yeah, at the moment she's more concerned about her mother being sad.



User avatar
Carrie
Posts: 694
Joined: 04 Jul 2011, 09:23
Location: Bucksport, Maine USA

Re: How to talk with a child about the loss of a parent

Postby Carrie » 06 Aug 2013, 21:15

Really cool support on this point Anna and Sylvia - and you've directed this in a real cool way Niklas. Thank you. This is the kind of support and practical direction that parents need.

I faced a similar point when my child's step-grandfather died this past winter and directed the point from the same perspective as: Pa has died and he is not coming back. I wrote a blog on the process here: http://honestparent.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/on-death/

A point of note is that my child became very curious about death after this event. He specifically wanted to learn about dead bodies. So, together we researched what dead bodies looked like and during the process we discussed different ways that humans die and touched on how some of the more violent deaths were allowed to take place in our world. My child was 5 years old at the time.

Also, in children's cartoons and movies, death is shown to be a magical phenomenon where human and animal souls go into the white light or can 'come back' - so, when my child sees these he becomes hopeful that Pa (and his dead dog) can be brought back. This is a continual point that requires to be brought back to reality. When this happens, I state clearly to my child that what they are seeing is not real, that it is a story or 'pretend', and that when anything here dies, it does not come back.



User avatar
Anna
Posts: 3724
Joined: 12 Jun 2011, 20:17
Location: Uppsala, Sweden
Contact:

Re: How to talk with a child about the loss of a parent

Postby Anna » 06 Aug 2013, 21:38

Cool perspectives Carrie.

Thanks for sharing!



User avatar
Antoaneta
Posts: 50
Joined: 16 Jun 2011, 04:05

Re: How to talk with a child about the loss of a parent

Postby Antoaneta » 07 Aug 2013, 01:24

Yes, that is an interesting approach. At my last job we (PreK teacher) we had a child pass away. Went to bed and never woke up. So they were wondering how to bring the news to the children. Do they say- she moved away or that she passed away. I'm not sure which approach they took. And children at that age def do not understand the concept of death. They were stepping on the ants and bugs outside and I was like- you are killing them when you step on them....and they had little understanding of the concept (3-5 years old)



User avatar
Ann
Posts: 465
Joined: 14 Jun 2011, 06:37
Location: Belgium
Contact:

Re: How to talk with a child about the loss of a parent

Postby Ann » 07 Aug 2013, 07:14

My grandpa died just recently and when my little nephew of 4 went to visit him laying dead in the hospital, he didn't react much. I only saw him cry in church when other people started crying, and apparantly at home as well (where his mom (daughter of grandpa) was mourning + all other family members). So I also think the crying of the child is often more because of seeing the other people cry and being sad.

I didn't say anything to him since the others are with him and I only saw him a couple of times, but I heard they said that "grandpa is now a little star on the sky".

Personally I would also explain it just like Anna said.
And as Sylvia said, the child will asks more questions as it grows up and its brain develops, giving room to further explanation and clarity.



User avatar
Cathy
Posts: 1153
Joined: 13 Jun 2011, 07:36
Contact:

Re: How to talk with a child about the loss of a parent

Postby Cathy » 07 Aug 2013, 23:58

Thanks for sharing Niklas. Cool support given here, and I agree with much of what has been shared. The thing that I was looking at is how when I was 3 years old, I had been living with my grandparents for two years when my mother, (who I had only been seeing a couple times a month), came and took me away to live with her. Now, I've been told that I threw a huge fit, crying and kicking and screaming, and that they had difficulty putting me in their car to leave, however, I don't remember any of it. As a matter of fact I have very few memories of myself at the age of 3 at all, so, I would suggest letting the child come with her own questions about her father for the family, and as Anna shared, keep your answers simple. As she gets older she will no doubt come with more questions but for now as Sylvia pointed out, she is very young and can't grasp the concept of what it means that someone is dead and never returns.



User avatar
Rebecca Dalmas
Posts: 166
Joined: 15 Jun 2011, 05:09

Re: How to talk with a child about the loss of a parent

Postby Rebecca Dalmas » 11 Aug 2013, 04:31

When my younger son was in the first grade, just before he turned 7, a classmate died ( he slipped on ice and a truck ran over him). The children accepted the death, the parents were hysterical. When I went to the school to pick my son up, it was the parents that were weeping and crying in the hallway and outside the school. This went on for some time. There was so much of this, the children started to cry. My experience is that children do not have a reaction to death, it is the adults who create an idea of it being really sad which is not, as a reaction, really expressing any understanding of it.
When my boy's father died, I told them and many came and suggested that perhaps this was not a good idea. I also had friends who had a parent die, and they came and said to tell the boys because they had not been told and the secrecy around the death haunted them, they felt that something was being hidden and spent time trying to find out. They were angry that the adults were not being honest with them, so they were very explicit that I be honest about their father. All the reactions coming at me, even with what I was going through, surprised me, there were so many " things" in people that they never had shared.

My younger son who was seven, did not react too much, he seemed to be trying to understand what this meant. Later, as he grew up, he would express wanting to have a father, he did not use the words, my father, but a father. He was seeing what the other boys had.

Two days after his father's death, my younger son was out on a playground. I went out to check on him. There was this girl there who came up to me and said that my son was telling lies on the playground, he was telling the children that his father had died and had killed himself. I looked at the girl and said yes, it was true, she looked dumbfounded. I was in such shock, I think I did not have the thought to do anything put tell it as it was. Later I thought, maybe I should not have been so honest. But I was surprised that my son was telling people, like it was some event that was happening in his life, and the shock value of the story was " news" for his peers. So, at seven, children already know how to sensationalize, like the movies and stories on the news, and the behaviors of the parents instead of looking at why these things happen as they do.

My older son, at the time of his father's death, ran away, he did not want to know. And to this day, he does not really want to talk about it.
My younger son, also admits that he does not remember too much about his father.




Return to “Questions about Children”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest

cron