Take children with you to services if they want to go. If they are excluded they could imagine something taking place that is far more frightening than the real event. Prior to a service, sit down with the child and rehearse what will take place at a funeral, the cemetery, and after. Explain that people will be sad and that they may see people crying, but that they need not be afraid.
Don’t use euphemisms that can confuse them. Children take things they are told literally. Passing on, going to a better place, and being taken by God because the person was needed – can mean very different things to a child with an active imagination. It can be years before you hear how your words were interpreted and what fear they caused. If your family does have a formal religion, you can mention how your religion views death but be sure to add that not all families share the same belief.
When speaking to children
1) Use the d-words died and death
2) Address the fact that it is uncommon for a person to die unless they are elderly
3) Emphasize that you are there for them and open to their questions
4) Assure them that illness seldom leads to death
5) Buy books appropriate for the child’s age and read them together
6) Know that a child’s development stage will limit what they can understand. As they move into the next stage of their development, they may need to address the grief once again.
You may think the child who speaks of death is having a hard time coping and that the child who is quiet is doing well. Research has proven the opposite, so don’t be put off by a child talking about the death after a friend or family member has died.
Contact the children’s teacher so they are aware of the family death. If a child acts out, isolates, has trouble in school, develops stomach problems, consider calling a hospice and arranging for the child to attend a grief group made up of children their own age who have suffered a similar loss.