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HOW TO TALK TO CHILDREN ABOUT DEATH

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Start teaching children early by observing seasonal changes in the earth or by discussing the life span of a pet. Teaching about death should be approached honestly from the following three areas:

- Spiritual - Most LDS families can discuss eternal life and the separation of body and spirit.- Physical - Death is permanent. Never say a loved one "went away." Saying a person has "gone to sleep" also confuses children. When illness has led to death, be specific. Explain the difference between a fatal illness and one that can be treated.

- Emotional - people express grief in many ways. Children need to know it's OK to feel sad or cry. Allowing children to attend the services helps them see that others have similar feelings and that it's healthy to express them. It's also natural not to have feelings of sadness, but instead to feel confused, frightened, or even angry. Reminiscing about the loved one helps families keep precious memories and traditions alive. - Myra Platt, R.N., director of community education, Primary Children's Medical Center, Salt Lake City, Utah

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How we did it:

A teaching lesson

After the gravesite services for my mom, the small grandchildren were given helium balloons. We said Grandma was finished with her body on earth and didn't need it anymore. We told the children to let go of their balloons as we sang "I Am a Child of God." While they watched the balloons go up in the sky, we asked them to think of Grandma's spirit leaving her body and going to the spirit world. - Sara Alley, Salt Lake City, Utah

Hand, glove example

Before one of our babies died, we prepared our children by using Elder Boyd K. Packer's analogy of the hand and glove. We taught them about the separation of the physical body (the glove) from the spirit (hand) at death. This was easy for our children to understand, and my non-LDS mother was visibly touched by the simplicity and truth of the explanation. - Don and Bonnie Winters, Brookfield, Wis.

Involved the children

As we prepared to go to the funeral of our daughter Mandi, we discussed with our family that Mandi would look the same, but something would be different. We showed them two eggs that looked alike on the outside. (On one of the eggs, we had tapped a tiny hole in both ends and blown the insides out.) We then explained that Mandi's body was like a shell and while she was alive, her spirit was inside. We cracked the whole egg to show our family the contents. We then cracked the empty egg to explain that, at death, the spirit leaves the body.

Before the viewing, the children could see and touch the body and ask questions. We also encouraged others to bring their children because they were having nightmares about losing their siblings. The Comforter was present, and the children's minds were put at rest, and the nightmares stopped. - Joyce Bartschi, Yuma, Ariz.

Allow them to participate

I tried to be sensitive to my children through the grieving process in the following ways:

- Allowed them to participate in the funeral whenever and wherever it was possible or appropriate.

- Gave them every opportunity to talk about their feelings and ask questions.

- Talked about the one who had died.

- Acknowledged grief, explaining that it was natural.

Don't be fooled into thinking that the death of a loved one has been easily accepted by a child. They don't always react by crying or moping. - Denice Miller, Westminster, Calif.

Keep memory alive

When one of our eight children died, we told the other children that Jena had returned home to live with our Heavenly Father. We said she is alive where she is, and someday we shall see her again. We keep her memory alive in our home as much as we can by talking about her and wondering what she is doing. - Stella Vick, Norfolk, Mass.

Attitude made difference

My husband, Bill, died of a heart attack suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving me with six of eight children at home. The night after the funeral, the children and I talked about our situation. Our youngest child, then 8, said, "Well, I'm kind of proud Dad died." I asked him to explain. He said, "I think if Heavenly Father wanted Dad this bad, we should be proud of it." We picked up this attitude, and our mood of grief lightened, strengthening us for a happy life. - Shirley Bush, Idaho Falls, Idaho

Give honest answers

Provide children with simple, straightforward answers to their questions and ample opportunities to ask questions. Feelings of exclusion can be harder for children to deal with than sadness. Saying, "Your sister was so good that Heavenly Father took her to live with Him," may be meant as positive, but for a child it could cast doubts on the value of being good and the kindness of God in taking someone we love. Sometimes we can be helpful by answering a child's questions with, "I'm not sure, but I believe. . . ." It represents a special kind of honesty that children can understand. Also, talking about the death of a plant, fish or pet can help a child accept death as a part of life. - Phyllis M. Hansen, medical social worker, Provo, Utah

Kept children informed

My husband died three years ago, leaving me with nine children, ages 14 months to 20 years. The first step in explaining death was to let them know that their father had a terminal disease and might die. The morning before he died, I talked to each child on the phone and let him or her know Dad's death was very probable.

Two weeks after my husband's death, we remembered his birthday by passing on to each child something that belonged to their dad. It turned out to be a tender moment, appreciated by the children. Now each week during family home evening, we share memories of Dad. We have recorded the memories, so our little ones can learn more about their dad. - Lois B. Palmer, Lakewood, Colo.

Loved by Heavenly Father

When my husband died of an unexpected heart attack, leaving four children ages 7 to 15, we reviewed Heavenly Father's plan. The scriptures increased our knowledge of His plan. Priesthood blessings, fasting and praying gave comfort and strength.

Tell children to think positively and remember that they are not alone and they are loved by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Cry with them, talk to them and talk to others who have lost parents. - Karen Christiansen, Melbourne, Fla.

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How to checklist:

1 Use analogies to explain separation of body, spirit.

2 Give children honest, simple, straightforward answers.

3 Cry with your children; let them know grief is natural.

4 Involve children as much as possible in viewing, funeral.

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WRITE TO US:

July 9 "How to be a gospel ambassador when you're the only Latter-day Saint in your family."

July 16 "How to be a better neighbor."

July 23 "How to overcome the negative aspects of jealousy."

July 30 "How to keep your career from dominating your life."

Aug. 6 "How to keep children from quarreling."

Aug. 13 "How to care for aged parents."

Aug. 20 "How to make the dinner hour a family time."

Aug. 27 "How to encourage and increase reverence in Church meetings."

Sept. 3 "How to overcome an addiction to TV sports."

Sept. 10 "How to appreciate and preserve the beauties of nature."

Have you had good experiences or practical success in any of the above subjects? Share them with our readers in about 100-150 words. Write the "How-to" editor, Church News, P.O. Box 1257, Salt Lake City, Utah 84110. Contributions may be edited or excerpted and will not be returned. Material must be received at least 12 days before publication date.