YOUR CHILD DEAL WITH THE DEATH OF A LOVED ONE OR PET
If death should enter your child's world, whether it is a relative,
friend, or a pet, he needs your warmth and patience in order to deal
with the experience in a healthy way. It is important for you to help
him come to an understanding of what has happened and to work through
the grief of separation. Your natural instinct may be to protect your
child from the pain and sorrow, but avoiding the issue does more harm
than good. Your child needs to talk about the loved one who has died,
perhaps even to see him or her in death in order to process the experience,
mourn, and finally let go. In this instance, a child's needs are much
like an adult's.
Both during and after the experience, be open to all of your child's
questions. Take them seriously, even if your child appears to be acting
silly when he asks them-- this may be due to nervousness or grief
or both. Talk together about the person or pet's life and death.
Your child might like to make a memory book. This book can include
pictures by your child of special times shared with the deceased and
favorite things, such as books, songs, games and foods that they enjoyed
together. Let your child choose a favorite photograph of himself and
the deceased together for the cover. The process of making a book
like this one is usually more meaningful than the end result. Your
child may wish to put it away. Respect his feelings.
Since young children have not developed a real sense of time yet,
your child may become concerned that you or he will die soon. After
all, a deceased relative may have been elderly, but that term has
no meaning for him. You are old in comparison to him. It is better
to show rather than to tell him that the person or pet in question
lived "a long, long time." Make a timeline with your child
showing significant times in his own life, yours, and perhaps the
lives of his grandparents. Show him what a "long, long time"
really looks like.
When dealing with the death of a pet, many children need the ritual
of a little service and some kind of burial to help them separate
from a beloved animal. Your child might want to compose a poem about
his pet and then construct a grave marker with natural materials,
such as stones and wood scraps.
When you are mourning, share your grief with your child. It helps
everyone to talk to someone, and children can be sympathetic listeners.
The joy of loving and the pain of parting are both parts of real life--a
life we want to help our children live to its fullest.