Most parents do not know how to approach the subject of death with their children. Your knee jerk reaction will always be to protect them, so you will want to protect them from the pain that death causes when we grieve.
Cathy O’Connell-Cahill explains, in her CareNotes Pamphlet Talking with a Child About a Loved One’s Death, that for younger children, you may need to give a more descriptive explanation. Her example is “When a person’s body is very old, it gets broken and the doctors are unable to fix it.”
As a funeral director, and someone who sees this in many different ways, I believe that honesty is the best policy when talking to children about death. Children pick up on what is happening around them. If you try to hide things from them, they will probably sense that something is out of place. This can confuse or upset the them and can even make them think they have done something wrong or lead to a more complicated grief situation in the future.
It is OK to cry when you talk to your child about death. It is natural. There is nothing wrong with showing your emotions to your children. Just as you wouldn’t try and hide your love from them; don’t hide your grief and sadness either.
I want to leave you with a favorite quote of mine about Children and Death from Dr. Alan Wolfelt.
“Any child old enough to love is old enough to mourn.”
Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph. D.