During a visit to this funeral service in Singapore, a child asked a question.What does heaven look like? What do people who are dead eat? When will grandpa come back?A child often comes up with simple questions when someone has died. What exactly death means is difficult for him to understand. It is important to talk to your child about death. How do you approach that and what do you have to take into account?
Talking about death: why?
Ideally, you want to protect your child from loss, death, and mourning. However, sooner or later he will have to deal with it. Grandpa and grandma die at some point in his life. Perhaps a child in his class loses one of his parents. But it can also be smaller than that: your child’s pet dies, or he sees a dead bird in the street and asks questions about it. When a loved one dies, emotions arise that your little one does not know how to deal with. There is a chance that his imagination will run wild and he will come up with things that are not right. That can make him scared. It can therefore be good to talk about death sometimes. Even before your child is directly confronted with loss.
What does your child understand at what age?
Up to about 3 years
Your child has no idea what it means exactly when someone dies. Babies, toddlers, and toddlers can sense it when something violent is going on in the environment. They respond to their parents’ emotions by displaying different behavior than usual. For example, they sleep worse or become more affectionate. You can’t talk about death with your 3-year-old child yet, but it does help to make the days run the same as possible. Follow fixed rituals and give your child love, attention, and comfort, no matter how difficult that may be when a loved one has passed away.
4 or 5 years
Your child knows the word ‘death’ but sees it as something temporary. He has no sense of time at this age and does not understand what it means when someone ‘never comes back. Because he does feel that death is a fierce and complicated subject, it can be good to talk openly about it with him now and then. For example, explain the difference between living and inanimate things. An insect, tree, or person is alive, a bank is not.
From 6 years
Your child begins to realize that death is not temporary and that everything that lives can also die. This can make him anxious. It is good to continue to talk about a deceased person as normally as possible and to give space to feelings. Make it clear that your child is allowed to be angry and sad. In this way, he learns that it is not a forbidden subject, but that death is something that is part of life.
How do you talk about death with your baby?
It is important to talk openly and honestly about death. Your child probably understands more than you think. When someone is dying, you don’t have to tell everything in detail, but you don’t have to circle with made-up stories either. It is best to use simple and clear language. “Grandma’s heart is sick and the doctor can’t make it better.” You don’t have to overload your child with information, giving a dosed explanation works better. If your child asks a question, ( Will grandpa ever come back? ), try to answer it as honestly as possible ( Unfortunately not, dear ). Ask a question in return ( Sad, huh ) or let your child think for himself ( Where do you think he is now? ). Talk about it for a few minutes and then move on to something else. You can also use tools to start a conversation. There are books about mourning and death for all ages. It can also help to play out a situation with dolls, to make a drawing with your child, or to watch a movie in which someone dies, such as De Leeuwenkoning or Bambi. You can also view photos of the deceased loved one together.
Your child’s reactions
Your child may be indifferent or disinterested when you talk about death. Don’t be surprised if he immediately starts playing with his cars again. This does not mean that the subject does not touch him, it just takes a while for him to process the information. He probably doesn’t know what to do with this message right now, but he’ll come back to it later. Maybe even at a time when you don’t expect it at all (anymore). Your child will deal with the loss of a loved one differently than an adult. He expresses his grief more in pieces: he suddenly has to cry very loudly and then happily continues to play. You may notice that your toddler is also more open-minded with the deceased. Young children are often not afraid to touch a body or give a kiss. A toddler does not yet realize that you can also die, an older child does. He may then become afraid of losing you. After the death of a loved one, it can seem as if your child is doing well. He does not show any crazy behavior and, as always, plays sweetly with other children. Still, there is more going on in his head than you think. He may be hiding his emotions because he feels he needs to be nice or to spare you and your partner. It can therefore be good to bring up the subject regularly, even if your child does not give any reason to do so.