How do we talk to kids about death?
Death is a very unpleasant topic. A topic that evokes a lot of sentiments in people. Talking to kids about Death is a very difficult task. But from personal experience, I do believe, that it’s something we all should do. With as much honesty as age appropriate.
My spouse’s uncle died suddenly a couple of years ago. We were shell-shocked by the news. The husband rushed to Calcutta, while I picked up the older one from the daycare. She sensed my mood was not very great. She asked me what happened and why her Appa didn’t pick her up.
I first thought of making up stuff, but realised that I had to start at some point. So I told her the truth. That her Chitappa Thatha whom she had met a year ago had died.
Kid: How he died Amma?
Me: He died because he was not well.
Kid: Did he have fever?
Me: No, his heart suddenly stopped.
Not that she understood the concept of heart and stuff. But I was being honest.
Kid: oh ok! Amma, so now when he will come here?
Me: Never baby. When someone dies, they just go away. They never come back. They perhaps become a star, or a tree, or just become the ground.
She was silent for a while and then asked ‘Amma, then every tree and star is dead person!’
Me: No, but no one knows what happens to you after death.So I assume they will become something.I think a star or tree is good no?
She again kept quiet for a while and asked ‘Amma, who will drive his car now?’For some reason, that bothered her, I don’t know why.
We spoke for a while and then the topic changed.
After a few days, she asked me again about uncle. Her questions ranged from what would he be doing (he would be sleeping I guess), what is dying like (it’s like going to sleep for a long time), which star do you think he is (I said I am not sure about it!) and so on and so forth.
Then the next year my grand aunty died. Someone who we were very close to. When my mother informed me about it, the kid asked me what happened and I told her the truth. She said she thought that her thathi had become another star and would perhaps meet Chittappa thatha and say hello to him.
In short, I realised a few things
Speak the truth as much as possible.
1. Speak the truth as much as possible. When we start hiding things from children, they just get more curious. We think kids are not emotionally strong, but they are. We just need to deal with them in the right way!
2. I personally think, it’s absolutely okay to break down after listening to a loved one’s death in front of a kid. (It differs from person to person of course!) As long as you explain to the child what the issue is and why you are sad about it.
Kids need to be told the truth, but remember to be sensitive about the age.
3. Kids need to be told the truth, but remember to be sensitive about the age. Telling a four-year old brutally about how death can occur may not be a very great thing especially if it’s due to an accident. But telling a four-year old, that someone has gone forever, may not be a very bad idea!
4. Describe the process properly. Like I told the kid about how the heart stops pumping and how the limbs fall cold and how it’s like going to sleep for a long while, for ever perhaps.
5. Assure the kid that you are not going to die immediately and that you will be there for him/her whenever they want! Also, tell them even if you are not there, dad/mom/grandmom/uncle/aunt/granddad etc are around for them always!
How do you handle dealing with death with a loved one?
Image credits: Team IMC