Mom, where is your mom?
How do you explain death to young children?
Just how do you explain this one without over sharing and causing anxiety to the child: My son asked me where my mom is the other day. I realised that I had ignored telling him that my mom had passed away before he was born. I just assumed that it was not important for me to tell him because he does not know her. I forgot that he goes to school and there are other children who speak of their grandmothers while he has nothing to say about his.
Sharing memories, creating memories
Yes he does have my aunts who play the grandmother role very well but bottom line is that his mother does not have a mother. I am sure this must have been boggling his mind but for a long time and on my side really thought it was unnecessary to explain because he has never seen her. I am actually planning to start sharing a part of his grandma’s life with him and showing him pictures of her; what she was like and what she would get up to when I was still young. I think I have deprived my son of that part of my life and he deserves to know.
This then got me thinking how one can explain the concept of death to children. How to explain death in an age-appropriate manner? A friend of mine whose mom passed away while her child was still young managed to explain her mother’s death by telling her daughter that her mom is with the angels after she was ill for a long time. She showed her pictures and explained to her that grandmother will no longer be around but is in heaven watching over them. She says that she cried and mentioned that she was sad at the news but at least understood that grandma was not coming back to be with them. Her approach of telling the truth helped her even though her daughter was sad but she was clear on what had happened.
Beware of euphemisms, traditions and fibs
Some people try and shield the truth and would say things like “mama has gone to another province and will be back after many years” – why lie to the poor child instead of getting it over and done with. Keeping up the child’s hope is not the solution. We need to explain what death is and not say things like “he is sleeping” because when you sleep you wake up. Death and sleep are not the same thing. Your beliefs are also important in explaining death because as much as one could say “grandmother has gone to heaven and is watching over us”, the next person may not believe in that concept, they may believe that death is death and nothing happens afterwards.
“What about you, mom?”
The concept of death is not something easy to explain to children but being honest is the best. Kids may also worry whether you as the parent will also die. I guess here explaining that you expect to live for many years and be with them could work to ease the anxiety.
Read more by Masanda Peter
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Have you had to tackle the issue of death with your child? How did you handle it?