Talking to Young Children about Loss
What do you say when your child looks at the tiny hand print on your arm. and asks whose it is? It's difficult, it's not either of their hand print's. In fact, it's from before they were even born. An older sister, they never got to meet. The older sister we held once and never got to take home. My husband and I wondered discussed multiple times how we would handle this situation. Knowing we want them to know about our first child, because we're never ashamed of her, but not sure if they're age is too young to discuss death. There were somethings we decided:
Obviously, honesty is always best. This doesn't mean small children need every single detail, but be honest. Don't hold back from fear that these details will hurt them. In fact, small children have such beautiful vision. They get excited over even the smallest things. My children get so excited and LOVE the fact that they have a big sister and grandmother guardian angels. Sometimes, hard questions are asked. When their father leaves for work, they ask if he's coming back. Yes, of course he is. When they ask if they're big sister or their grandmother is coming back, we have to say no. I'd rather be up front and honest, than hide the fact that they were ever around though.
Be Open to Discussion
Loss can be confusing, especially for young hearts. Children are curious. They may ask questions. Whatever your beliefs, be ready to answer. Talk to them about heaven, reincarnation, or if you're unsure, share that. The talk may occur every once in a while and evolve. When a child is young, they're used to seeing `movies and shows of people returning from the grave, or rising from ashes. It may take a while for a child to understand that there is no coming back.
Make the information understandable
Use simple and clear words. If you're talking to a young child, you may just need to put the information in simple examples. "The dog died, that means he won't be barking or eating or walking around anymore." Again, this talk will be evolving with their understanding.
Help your Child Remember
Let your child see pictures, maybe even pick a picture to keep. A song that reminds them. Talk about good memories and if they ask for stories, tell them. My daughters never met their older sister, or their grandmother, but I tell their names and details are still spoken frequently. Their great-grandfather they did meet, and I point out elephants (he loved elephants) and mention him, We frequently look at pictures and talk times spent together,
Allow the your Children to Mourn
Remind your children it's okay to be sad. It's okay to mourn and it's okay to miss your loved ones who have gone. If they see you crying, you're letting them know, it's okay to mourn and cry. If you try to hide your sadness, you may make them feel like they can't express themselves when they're hurting as well. Although, they may not seem like they're hurting right away, it takes some time for them to process a loss.
Keep your Children Involved
If you do anything for an anniversary of a death, allow them to be a part of it. Release balloons, bake a cake, light candles. Have them be a part of whatever rituals you do!
My kids help me bake cakes, we sing Happy Birthday and we talk about who ever's birthday it is. They help me pick out flowers to take to grave sights. They're a part of decisions made for remembrance and I think it helps them to feel closer to our lost family.
Even though losing a loved one can be hard and talking about the loss can be difficult, there;s something so beautiful and magical about seeing your young ones remember them and talk about loved ones. When they see pictures of their sister they get so excited about their big sister. They love to talk about how elephants they see would excite they're grandfather. They always have a magic in their eyes as they remember details. I'm so glad they have this love in their heart, and I'm hoping when they encounter a friend who suffers a loss, that they'll have empathy and be able to help another individual through the hard time.
Jessica- Mother to all girls. Coffee addict and veteran. Blog at https://coldoatmealandcoffee.wordpress.com/