Children learn so many life-lessons in childhood that help prepare them throughout their life. When is it appropriate to discuss death and grief?
My children were adults in their 20’s when their dad suddenly died so I did not have to consider when to have THE conversation about death. However, a few years later, we were blessed with grandchildren (we’ve had 6 in 5 years!). Now the family had new decisions to ponder. When do we share our traumatic loss with young children?
At what age do we begin a conversation about death?
Turns out, talking about death is often recommended for children. They are naturally curious and factual and want to understand. For my family, we begin introducing the death of loved ones to the children at birth. Some of the ways we have done so include:
- naming babies after a departed loved one
- making keepsakes from old clothing
- talking about special memories, habits & traditions
- reviewing old pictures & videos
- sharing preferred food
- encouraging favorite hobbies
- visiting the cemetery
- reading a memory book
- celebrating milestone anniversaries
A societal shift
Historically, birth and death were all around us. Until the 1940’s, hospitals were not available for these milestones so people were typically tended to, at home, by their families. As medicine became more common and growing numbers of women entered the workforce, a shift occurred that took life and death from our homes and hid it in sterile hospitals where professionals took charge. And so, children (and society) who had once been accustomed to these natural occurrences in their homes, no longer had this advantage. Unfortunately, death became an invisible, frightening taboo for most.
“When grandma died at home we learned how to die and we learned how to grieve.” – former hospice director
Learning about death is as natural as a puppy’s love
No matter how we try to sterilize and hide it, death IS a natural and absolute part of life. Our children encounter death more often than we probably think they do. From animals, to movies, friends and games; it is everywhere in our society. We just don’t talk about it!!
When we speak honestly and openly to children about the end of life, it becomes more comfortable and natural. In fact, talking about death is a great way to learn to appreciate life.
In addition, it’s important for children to see us grieve. Our tears flow as an expression of love and compassion. These are life-long, valuable mental health lessons we can model for our children. We teach them how to responsibly help the bereaved they encounter and how to personally grieve when their time comes.
Death is a taboo in most cultures. Let’s gift our youth with the tools to anticipate, accept and honour the inevitability of loss and grief.
What helpful suggestions / examples can you provide on this subject?