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Parenting Young Children Through A Death

Nov 21, 2007
One of life's most painful lessons is that death is final, and by the time we are adult is we have come to terms with its finality. We may struggle with its inevitability, but we understand that when someone or something dies, the loss of life is permanent.

But we had to come to that realization in stages. And if someone close to your family has recently died, your young children may be struggling to understand what that means.

One of the most challenging parts of parenting can be that helping your young children understand death in an age-appropriate way while allowing them to witness your grief without being confused and frightened by it.

Your approach to parenting your young children through the death of a loved one will depend on their ages. Children less than five years of age have not usually grasped the concepts time and place, so being told that someone has gone away forever means nothing.

You need to talk in literal terms about things the child has experienced, and explain death in simple physical terms.

Perhaps reminding the child of how one of his or her favorite toys became old or broken and didn't work any more, explain that the deceased person's body was too old or broken to work. You may have to keep explaining that the person was broken too badly to be fixed, and the child won't be able to see him or her again.

And, as harsh as it may sound, parenting your young children through the death loved one will be more effective if you avoid terms indicating that the family has simply "lost" someone.

Children that young fear being lost, and if an important figure in their lives can be "lost," they might get "lost" as well.

By the time children reach primary school, they usually understand that dying means a permanent separation, and that the dead person is gone for good.

They have seen enough television violence to associate death with scary circumstances, and may have picked up messages that if they behave in a certain way, they can keep death at bay.

The image of the Grim Reaper has real appeal to children in this age group because it helps them personify a very difficult concept.

At this point, effectively parenting your young child through the death of a loved one means giving him or her clear explanation of why the death occurred, whether it was natural or accidental, and that death is not a person waiting to get people.

Your children have experienced loss from a very early age, ranging from the loss of a favorite toy or having to share you with a new sibling, to the loss of a pet. They have already experienced grief, and when a significant person in their lives dies, they will experience it again.

Part of parenting a young child through the death of a loved one is to encourage him or her to express her grief, and to share your grief openly without giving the impression that you are so devastated that you will no longer be able to parent the child.

Young children confronted with death will react with denial, refusing to accept its finality; guilt, thinking that if they had behaved better, the loved one would have been spared; and anxiety, wondering who will fill the void which the death has in their support system.

Parenting young children through the death of a loved one means you will have to recognize these feelings, and be there to reassure them that even though the dead person is gone permanently, they are not responsible, and you will be there to love and care for them.
About the Author
Matt Garrett 2007 www.PositiveParentingHandbook.com Get your Free 12 Part Ecourse on Positive Parenting for Raising Healthy, Happy and Smart Kids What Makes a Good Parent
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