The loss of a beloved family member or friend is devastating to even adults with a keen understanding of death and experience dealing with loss and grief. For a young child, death can be confusing, disorienting, and frightening. If your family has experienced a loss, you may be concerned about communicating about that loss with your child, so that she can begin to process and understand death as well as possible.
Communicating Without Fear
The first mistake many parents and caregivers make when a loss affects a young child is to back off from having conversations about this loss. However, when adults avoid a particular subject or appear uneasy talking about it, that can increase a young child’s anxiety. This means that parents must maintain a balance in their communications with their children. Don’t shy away from the subject of a recent loss, but refrain from talking about the loss too much, and overwhelming your child. Instead, try to stay tuned into your child’s feelings. If he mentions a recently departed grandparent or family friend, or asks a question, be ready to talk about his feelings and listen to his questions.
Don’t Worry About Having All of the Answers
Your child looks to you as a person who has all of the answers. After all, you taught her about the sun, the trees, and the grass, you help her put her shoes on everyday, and you provide her with everything she needs in life. When talking about death, loss, and grieving, even the most competent adults don’t have all the answers. If your child asks a question that you truly don’t know the answer to, you can tell her that you’re not sure of the answer. Explain to her that while we may have a good understanding about the world around us, there are some uncertainties we may never truly understand. If you are calm about the fact that you don’t have an answer, this will help your child to become comfortable with the idea of uncertainty and not knowing everything, which will help her to cope with the unknown as she gets older.
How Young Children Process Emotions
Remember that your child may handle complicated emotions differently from you. When you speak with your child about death, make sure that you refrain from long lectures. Keep your chatting short and simple. Once you’ve talked, check in later with your child to ask if he has any questions or if he understands your conversation. Children sometime seem to understand, and may remain quiet even though they are still processing and might have more questions later. Follow-up is key. Speak with your daycare or preschool provider about what you’ve discussed with your child, so that they understand when questions or concerns come up during the day. Your childcare providers can be a helpful resource when your family is going through a difficult time.
We hope that the children we care for each day never have to experience loss at such a young age, but we are prepared to help your family and your little ones by facilitating communication and offering extra support during difficult times.