COLUMBIA, Mo.– If you are decorating graves this Memorial Day weekend, that can be a good opportunity to talk to children about grief.
Be honest and open when explaining death to children, says University of Missouri Extension state youth development specialist Tashel Bordere.
Tell children of the death of a pet or loved one as quickly as possible, Bordere says. Also inform their teachers, coaches and family friends so they can offer support.
Be simple and direct. Avoid euphemisms such as “she’s gone away” or “she’s sleeping.” These instill fears around sleeping and mislead the child to believe the deceased will return. “It’s OK to say ‘death’ and ‘died,’” Bordere says.
Don’t expect an immediate outward reaction from your child, she says. Signs of grief may appear later. Prepare to support your child when she or he is ready to talk.
“Children experience grief as intently as adults, but they express it differently,” Bordere says.
Tell them what to expect if they will be attending a funeral or visitation. “Follow their lead with their questions and decisions,” she says.
Talk with them about who may be at the funeral, what the casket is like, and that there may be songs, speaking and prayer. Let them choose whether to view the body.
Tell them that some people may cry at the funeral, Bordere says. Let the child know that the individual’s body no longer works and they are not suffering.
Let your child know that it’s OK to feel emotions such as sadness and anger. Give them outlets for expressing those emotions. Don’t be afraid to let your child see expressions of your own feelings such as tears.
Remind your child that it’s not his or her fault that a pet or loved one died. Reassure children that they will be taken care of and check back with them over time to see how they are doing.
You can help children say goodbye by planting a tree or flower, or painting a special rock to help them grieve, Bordere suggests.
“Death is hard, but when children feel supported by caring adults, they have more positive outcomes over time,” she says.