Do you remember that dog you had, that your parents told you went to live with Aunt Jane? Chances are, she really didn’t. But not a lot of people feel comfortable explaining death to a child.
How do you go about the process?
For starters, experts suggest being honest, accurate and brief. Be careful about using euphemisms like “passed away” or “went to sleep” to describe death, and this may create confusion for younger children who may end up then being afraid of going to sleep for fear of them too passing away.
Tell them what happened, then see what comes from them, such as their feelings and ideas about how to handle the death.
Kimberly Cardeccia, author of Healing Your Heart When Your Animal Friend is Gone: A Children’s Pet Bereavement Workbook, says it is best to tell your children about the death right away. Then allow your children to ask questions. “Recognise that if they ask for details, they’re asking for comfort,” she says. “Spare them any details that would traumatise them or create a horrible picture in their minds. Make it sound as peaceful as you can.”
Children may not grieve in the same way that adults do. Your child may not show signed of being sad, or can go from feeling sad and then go back to playing like nothing ever happened. Do not underestimate the importance of involving your children in the grieving process by asking them directly what they’d like to do. Children need a process of saying goodbye just as much as you do.