How should death be described to children?

The Details of the Question
How should death be described to children?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Children’s perception of the concept of death differs according to their age. In the pre-school stage, death is a temporary case in which they think that those who are dead will return. 

•   They have no idea about death before they are two years old. They begin vaguely to perceive death after two years old. However, their perception of death is like a long term separation or a journey.

•   Between the ages of 6 and 9, they begin to realize that death is a non-returnable journey, however they believe that they themselves and their beloved ones will not die. They generally think that only the sick or old people are the ones who will die.

•   After ten years of age, children become clearly aware of the concept of death. They know death is the end of life and that it will happen to everyone and it has no return.

How should we describe it to them? 

•   Before children encounter a case of death, their perception of the concept of death should be developed according to their age so that they can be made understand that death is a part of life.

•   Do not try to describe death to children in an indirect way. Make sure you use realistic descriptions as much as possible. 

We can describe death to children in a simple way that death is the end of life and those who are dead cannot come back any more. Tell them in an appropriate way for their age about the fact that those who are dead cannot be with us any more, and that they cannot breathe or eat or drink and in short they cannot use their body functions. 

•   Before 6 years of age, children can have difficulty in understanding religious concepts. They should not be told that Allah has taken the dead person to His side because He loves them much. This kind of description can cause children to think that all beloved ones will die, and to worry.

•   Description of death as resembling it to sleep can result in children’s development of thought that they may die while they sleep and cause them to suffer sleep problems.

•   Resembling death to a long journey or introducing illness and old age as reasons for death might cause children to fear journeys, illness and growing old.

•   Children should be described the true reason when they encounter a case of death in the family or neighborhood.

•   Death of a domestic animal might be the correct time to talk about the concept of death to children. In such a case, members of the family may show the children how sorry they are and the dead animal might be taken away with a ceremony. Not buying or bringing a new pet to home might help children understand the concept of death. 

Things we should do for a child who has lost a relative 

- Children may seem unaffected by a case of death since they cannot react to such case as adults do when they have lost a relative. The child who hears the news of death may not believe this and may think that the dead person will return. He becomes angry both with the dead person and with the situation itself; and he becomes gradually aware of the impossibility of seeing them again and he begins to feel unhappy and upset because of that. He becomes accustomed to this situation in time and he acknowledges the absence of the dead person.

- Children may feel lonely at such times and they might need the support of a person. However, at later stages of their lives, they might experience this condition of emotion again and again.

- In order for children to be well developed in further stages, they need to get over this stage healthily.

- The child who has lost a relative must absolutely be informed about it.

- The child must be given the news of death by a person who they love and trust most and who they feel the closest to. In case of death of a parent, it is best that the other parent should give the news.

- In case of death, children are usually taken away from the house, which is not an appropriate attitude. Children should be allowed to attend the funeral based on their own will. However, the child might be taken to the house of a relative from his own house in which mourning, cries, screams and complaints feel the air. The place should not be so far from the house. 

- The child must not definitely be told not to cry and to feel sad. The child should be given the chance to express his/her feelings and thoughts.

- Make sure you answer the questions of a child about the case and try to answer as correctly as possible. Anger, aggressiveness, babyish behaviors can be observed in the child’s attitudes.

- This should not be forgotten that this is temporary and you should treat the child in a patient and understanding way.

- Beside sentimental support, the child also needs to be provided physical support, such as hugging the child, holding his/her hands and being around.

- The child requires to be supplied with activities such as playing games, drawing and painting and sports in order to have the child externalize their sadness.

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