Explaining death to children, something which many parents dread to have to do. As I have explained in previous posts, Alfie has experienced a lot of loss in the past two years.
Just recently, his friend, who was just seven years old, passed away in a very tragic accident. It wasn’t the easiest subject to explain to a child who believes life is a playground with never ending happiness to fill it.
He was heartbroken, to say the least. I wasn’t sugar coating it (although I did to some extent) – I was honest and his reaction wasn’t what I had expected. He was in floods of tears.
For a six year old to hold so much emotion towards a friend who tragically passed, made me realise that age is just a number. It doesn’t matter whether you’re six, sixteen or twenty six – losing a friend is very traumatic and upsetting.
I’d explained that his friend wouldn’t be returning to school, which was probably the hardest thing he had to try and process. “Who will I play superheroes with now?” was a question he asked – I didn’t quite know how to answer that.
His friend, who was one of the sweetest boys I had met since he started school, had gone to be a beautiful star in the sky. This gave Alfie a lot of comfort, and he passed that on to some of his school friends too.
When I was Alfie’s age, I never knew of death, or experienced someone passing. I was three when my grandfather died and I have no recollection of the event, all I remember was my mum telling me.
As a child, I felt no loss, or sad emotions because I didn’t understand it – of course now I’m older, I’d love to see him again, but at that time, I hadn’t a clue why I wasn’t able to see him anymore.
Alfie is so strong, and he has showed me that after experiencing so much loss. I hope other parents are able to take this advice, and it’s able to help them if they have a child who is unfortunately experience loss, too.
- Tell them as soon as possible, if you leave it – the longer you do, they’re more likely to hear it from an unreliable source or they will overhear a conversation. It’s best if they hear it from a parent or a very close relative, so you’re able to comfort them.
- Reassure them that it’s OK to feel upset, and if they do, it’s good for them to talk about it. Make sure they’re aware they are able to confide in you if they are wanting any questions to be answered.
- As hard as it may be, it is best to use words which they’re able to understand and will be able to come to terms with. ‘Died’ (is an awful word, I know), but children are able to understand that. ‘Passed away’ is confusing for a child at the age of six, from my experience anyway.
- Only give as much information as the child wants – usual indication is with them asking questions. There is a fine line between being honest and overloading them with information which they haven’t asked for.
- Children’s reactions are all very different but very normal. It could be a nervous giggle or looking blank – it doesn’t mean they’re uninterested, they’re processing the information and of course with all children, death is all very confusing and usually they’re unaware of the seriousness.
I have many more years to come with explaining death to Alfie, whether it’s a friend or a member of our family. It will never get any easier, but I am still learning on how to support him through these times. I hope this comes somewhat useful to another parent who needs some guidance with the same experiences.