Children need help understanding illness, dying, and death

Children need help understanding illness, dying, and death. Forty percent of all children will experience at least one traumatic event before they become adults. Death, loss, and trauma are common experiences for children, but the challenge is usually not addressed until after the crisis has occurred. Let’s not give children a crash course in grief! The opportunities for growth embedded within any crises are too important to leave as after-thoughts. The ramifications to our children of not having the skills or support to deal with personal change of this magnitude are dangerous. As adults and caregivers, we need to discuss the inevitability of loss, and teach coping skills before they are needed, and during a time that is not so emotionally volatile. Children need help if they are to navigate and successfully adjust to circumstances they do not understand and for which they have not developed skills.

This means using appropriate vocabulary and find “teachable moments” to talk about the reality of living things decaying and dying. There are opportunities every day, all around us, to point out the inevitability and universality of death. All living things die.

We can model and show our children how to respond to loss. Show your child that tears are normal and acceptable. Give them the language to talk about their feelings, and let them listen to you as you share your reactions and response to the loss of a job, a dream, a friend, a move to a new home.

From the beginning of my daughter’s life, I invited her to be with me as I cried about a death saying, “I’m sad and I’m okay. It’s okay to be sad.” It is an important lesson to show children that one can feel sad/angry/confused while still feeling safe and whole. To share and show a child that “this too shall pass” is to give them a roadmap through challenge.

2 thoughts on “Children need help understanding illness, dying, and death

  1. Lani Leary

    Georg: Thank you for expanding our opportunities for teachable moments, as household pets are often a child’s first opportunity to experience loss and strike at the core feelings of attachment and loss. We can model a caring response to aging and dying pets; validate their feelings; and guide a child to create ceremonies to honor their relationships and the deceased.


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