Helping your kids deal with the death of a loved one

As adults, many of us go to great lengths to avoid confrontation with death and our utmost to keep it hidden from our children. Of course this little charade will, and has come crashing down on me, since the recent passing of my first love, my dad.

Personally I’m struggling with helping my kids grapple with the concept of mortality. Selfishly, I want them to believe that they will live eternally. No, I’m not delusional; I just want to shield her from ever feeling any pain. And yet, I know how gravely important it is to keep my father’s memory a part of my kids’ consciousness, as well as prepare them for the inevitability of death.

Of course, having a religious faith you can lean on to help assuage your child’s fears about the concept of death, and the hereafter, is a valuable resource you should tap into. But there are also many poignant books and activities you can share with your kids to gently help them comprehend and come to terms with death and realize that it’s not all gloom and doom.

Here are just a few of the ways we are slowly attempting to work through our grief as a family

Share photos and mementos: Talk about your own personal experiences with death — Sharing these memories, photos and stories with your my children has helped to show them how their memories can live on even after a person passes away.

Explore the seasons:Explain what happens to plants and trees as well as certain animals at different times of the year. Go a step further and plant some seeds in different containers; watch the plant grow. Once the new plant dies, a gentle discussion can begin.

Pay your respects: Go on a family field trip to a cemetery to honor family members who’ve passed away. Be open and honest when talking about these loved ones and the life they lived. While there, be sure to stress the fact that death is a natural part of life.

Practice honesty: Honesty is the best, and only, policy when explaining death to a child. Never ever lie to a child about death or use phrases such as “Grandma went on a forever vacation” or “Grandpa went to another place.” It’s instilling an unrealistic sense of hope in children, making them believe that if they pray hard enough, this person will come back.

We’ve also begun to read books which delicately broach the topic of death, one of my favorites is

According to author Icy Frantz, when her son, Sargeant, died, there were few resources available to help her younger children understand about death and the hereafter. They had questions like: Where is Sargeant? Can he see us? Does he miss us? And does he know that we love him? As she and her husband began to answer their questions, the book “Sargeant’s Heaven” emerged, a story about a little boy and the new home which is created for him by his brothers after he dies.

Age appeal: Two ½ to 10 years old.

What will kids take away from it; After reading about Sargeant’s heaven, a child can create his or her own special heaven for a loved one. Children are very concrete thinkers and it is comforting to imagine a loved one in a very wonderful place. The book also comes with a special pin to be worn in remembrance of a loved one.

Parent perks; Reading “Sargeant’s Heaven” with a child and working on the exercise at the close of the book is a tool that can help start the process of healing after a loss.
The book is a wonderful way to begin a conversation with children who have a healthy curiosity about heaven.

Another workbook that has been incredibly helpful for us is ‘WHY DID YOU DIE?’
According to child psychologist Dr. Lawrence Shapiro, when a loved one dies, children are faced with a kaleidoscope of feelings, thoughts, myths and questions. His workbook, “Why Did You Die? Activities to Help Children Cope with Grief and Loss,” offers tools to help children deal with their feelings of grief.

Age appeal: Two to 12 years old.

What will kids take away after reading it: Art projects like pinpointing four emotions they are feeling, assigning a different color to each and creating a design with those four colors to express how they’re feeling that day. Creating their own versions of Guatemalan worry dolls and assigning their worries to each of those dolls. Compiling a list of things they can do to make themselves feel better, as well as draw a picture of themselves doing these things.

Parent perks: The first section of the workbook advises parents about a child’s grief and how to best help their child at each stage. The 40 simple activities the book features will help children express difficult feelings, separate myths from facts, and grow and thrive after the loss of a loved one.

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