Responding to a child’s questions about death and the dying process is essential to their understanding of life. Explain death and dying is generally difficult for most parents/caregivers for two reasons: (1) their own ideas and response to death is not clear and difficult for them to deal with, and (2) they want to protect their child from the topic of death. A child’s desire to know and understand death and the dying process often comes about the time they want answers about human sexuality.
Childhood questions about death may help parents/caregivers recognize their own response to death and dying, their knowledge, response to future questions about this process of life as well as their child queries into the grieving process. For it is equally necessary to prepare ourselves about death and dying as it is about life’s beginnings.
Whenever a child experiences death, such as the death of a pet or the death of relatives or friends, parents/caregivers should be prepared to discuss their meaning. In response to a child’s questions, parents/caregivers must be honest and discuss with her/him one’s personal view concerning the great mystery of what happens once one dies and life leaves the body. There is nothing wrong with telling a child that others know more about this subject and are able to explain the aspects death and dying. It is also not wrong to state that we do not have answers to what dying is like.
Regardless of a parent’s/caregiver’s view of death, all of us can do several things. First, we can help a child understand that the human body is a temporary shelter that a life exists in, not life itself. Second, help a child develop an appreciation of life’s order and beauty and that they will not be to know, understand or explain all aspects of life’s mysteries. Third, that life is precious and good. When their faith is involved that focuses on a hereafter, they may look forward without fear of their life or their future.
It is advised that a child not be sent away or not allowed to attend a funeral or wake if they ask to attend. Some adults have reported how insecure and rejected they felt when as a child when they were not allowed to attend a funeral of someone they loved. Behaviorists have found that adults not permitted to attend a funeral of a loved one as children exhibited a life time of loss dealing unresolved grief.
A child’s presence at a wake or funeral has been found to be a great source of comfort to grieving parents/caregivers following the death of someone loved by both. A child’s innocence and uncanny ability to respond to situations truthfully can be of great comfort during a period of profound grief.