Death is an inevitable fact of life, yet we try to avoid talking about it among ourselves, most especially among children. True enough, children have little to no understanding of death, but it’s something that they can witness every day. Whether it be the death of a loved one, a pet, a plant or even a random animal down the street. Children are aware of it. Instead of avoidance, what they need most are their parents’ support and help to acquire a healthy understanding. We’ve asked a Family Expert, Ms. Maribel Dionisio, for help about this subject.
It’s a rule of thumb for parents not to mention death to a child until he is old enough to understand. When asked if it was that was the proper approach, Ms. Dionisio said that parents need to introduce the concept of death as soon as they ask, or when a loved one passes away. Experience may make it easier to understand, so try to use the less emotionally scarring death of a little bird, an insect, or even the ones you see through your television screen to educate your child.
Sometimes we arrive at a point where we have to make up lies to cover up the harsh truth, thinking it’s a way of protecting their feelings. However, lying is something we need to avoid because it makes it harder for them to make sense of things. Euphemisms are also to be avoided because children take these excuses literally. According to Ms. Dionisio, “Covering up or saying things like, ‘Lola is just sleeping,’ or ‘Lola just went away on a vacation,’ can be confusing. They may get worried about people sleeping or about people leaving on a trip.” Give them the truth when they have questions. Respond in a way they would understand and is appropriate for their age. If you do not have knowledge on the subject, tell them, “I don’t know.”
When faced with someone’s death, do not hesitate to communicate. Share your feelings to your children. Hiding will make them think that death is taboo, and that they aren’t allowed to share their feelings. Open yourself up, so that your children can do the same. When they do, listen and respond calmly and clearly. Tell them that death makes people sad and that it is okay for them to cry and mourn if they want to. Explain to them the importance of funerals and the rituals that we do when someone passes away, but never force them to participate. Assure them that you are there to love and comfort them in their times of need.
We need to stop protecting our children from things that are not in our hands. It’s better to help them understand the more puzzling things in life because although we protect them now, sooner or later, they’ll encounter these and it’s better that they’re prepared. Understanding is the first step to acceptance and it’s something only we can give to our children.
Ma. Isabel Dionisio, Family Expert