Death Through a Child’s Eyes

Child Grief Education Association

During funerals, it must always be remembered that some “attendees” are experiencing death for the first time. They may have seen a hundred zombies de-brained on a video game, but the reality of someone’s passingĀ  is obviously quite different. How this experience effects a child falls partially into your hands.

Here are a few guidelines:

  • Be clear in your phrasing. Children take most things literally. Don’t be abstract.
  • Euphemisms are confusing to children. Don’t tell a child that the deceased isĀ  only sleeping. They will expect them to wake up.
  • Be honest. A child knows when its being told a falsehood. They need to trust you so that they may understand the unknown.
  • Let them see. Children are naturally curious and learn best by visual cues. If they ask to see an urn, show them one, provided you have their parents permission of course. This will be of great benefit to them and will help make the experience of death less traumatic. And they will appreciate that a grown-up took time for them.
  • Don’t use too many technical terms. A child doesn’t know the words cremains, but does understand ashes. Don’t think of it in terms of dumbing things down, instead, think of it as simplification.
  • Be willing to answer questions. The mantra of a child, besides “no,” is why, what and how. This is hard-wired into their brains, not simply being nosy. And if you don’t know the answer, be honest about it. It won’t hurt.
  • Over-explaining never helps. It achieves the same results as shouting at the blind. A child’s attention span is very short. They only require the basics, the essence of things. If the sky is cloudy, there’s no reason to tell a child that the sky is slightly over-cast with ice crystal-filled cirrus clouds, also known as mare’s tails and…Get the idea? Just tell them that the sky is cloudy.
  • Let the child speak. This is definitely a situation where talking is crucial for some children to grasp something so profound as death. Don’t brush them off onto their parents. They are speaking to you. This is another facet of the service that you provide, a very important one that could come back to you in the future. Children do grow up and remember more than we think they can.

Lastly, you are an experienced guide, someone a child can look up to for answers that their parents may not be emotionally and technically capable of handling. You are the expert in this matter. You are also someone who has a demeanor of calm while everyone else is in distress. Who would you be drawn to if the roles were reversed? Many adults have a great fear of death, especially in our modern times since we are not often exposed to it unless we are in certain professions or live in a high-crime area.

Take this as an opportunity to help not only educate, but to dispel fear in future generations. For more information about children and grief, visit the Children’s Grief Education Association. The CGEA is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the needs of grieving children and families and to providing education and support to those who serve them.

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