Like sex, death is one subject that we try best to steer clear of when asked by children. If coaxed beyond our capacity to resist, we give answers that confuse them. I remember as a kid, I was told that when people die they go to God. For many years I openly feared and secretly hated God for snatching away our loved ones.
There is no denying the fact children have different comprehension levels at different ages. Not all questions about death have easy answers so it is okay to say ‘I don’t know’. There are no perfect answers either. A few tips to take care of while talking with children:
- Be honest and gentle
- Listen carefully
- Don’t overwhelm them with information
- Repeat and ensure that they understand you
Often such conversations end with “Will you die too?” Children see death as separation. Never make promises to a child that you cannot keep. Instead, reassure the child that you plan to be with them for a long time, and that they will always be cared for.
Let’s quickly look at some questions related to death that children ask and ways to deal with them.
What is a dead person?
Instead of giving euphemisms like “long sleep,” “going away,” or “passing” may be confusing to children. Let them know a dead person is one who stops breathing, talking, eating, walking. The body does not function anymore. Show them examples of what happens to dead things like birds, computers, birds etc. It easier for children to process hard facts than we think.
When do people die?
The book Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen. It explains the lifetime of each living creature. It beautifully and gently explains that for each one of us there is a beginning, middle and end. A small excerpt from the book reads:
“Butterflies live as butterflies for only a few weeks. Once they have dried their wings, they flutter and flit from leaf to flower. At first, they are bright and quick, but as time passes they begin to slow down, until finally they can go no further. They rest for a while, and then they die. That is the way butterflies live, and that is their lifetime.”
Will I die too?
All living creatures have a lifetime, eventually we all will die but children are healthy and sturdy and live long lives.
Where do dead people go?
Soul is what makes us special and that’s what exists after body stops its function. To be a special soul we have to do special things in our lives – to love and be loved. Soul lives on long after the body stops functioning. Soul is ‘hope’, a way our loved ones live on in our memories and heart when they are gone.
Overcoming your own fears about death is important before you talk with children. Let them know that death is part of the circle of life and encourage them to live a healthy and happy life.