Sometimes the news can be overwhelming. Disasters, death, and destruction all around. Even if it’s someone your child didn’t know, hearing about death in the news, social media, or in school from a friend can be troubling. Unfortunately, dealing with death is one of the few guarantees we have in life. As challenging as they may be, having these talks with children is incredibly important. Here are some things to keep in mind during these difficult discussions:
It’s OK to go there. While the instinct can be to hope your child didn’t hear that news report, or learn that a friend has experienced a death in the family, chances are they have. Bringing it up builds trust and helps you guide your child.
Go slow, but tell the truth. Depending on the situation and your child’s age, starting with a simple statement of “did you hear that…died?" can start the conversation. Answer questions to the best of your ability and let your child know that they can share the feelings they have.
You might be surprised by their reaction. There’s no right way for a child to react to death. Give permission for them to feel very affected, not affected at all, and anything in between.
Offer a way to pay their respects. Sending a card or drawing, even to a stranger, can help a child acknowledge that they are affected and offer condolences. It also helps them feel that they are doing something to help someone else.
Model behavior. The young people in our lives look to us to guide them and model behavior. It’s OK to show your own emotions related to events in the news. It communicates to them that showing emotions is healthy and accepted.
Afterwards, do something fun…a game night, ice cream, a walk outside. Remind them (and yourself) that life is full of grief, but also many many more joys.
Cara Allen is Clinical Director for Experience Camps and has a private psychotherapy practice in San Diego, CA. She holds both an MSW and a Master of Management’ degree, is a licensed clinical social worker, and has worked extensively in bereavement for the past 14 years at Sharp Healthcare where she was awarded both Social Worker of the Year and the prestigious Sally Bruener Haugh Spirit of Caring awards. Cara provides clinical supervision to aspiring therapists and has served as Experience Camps Director of Camper Services in California since 2014.
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