Each of us, in our own way, tries to make sense of death, particularly the death of a young person. Children want to understand but are often unsure and awkward in expressing their concern. The following normal childhood responses are taken from the work of the Good Grief Program’s description of psychological tasks for students when dealing with death. Sandra Fox, past director for the Good Grief Program at the Judge Baker Children’s Center in Boston, developed this material as a guide to having a conversation with children about death.
Provide a definition of death: Death is when the body stops working. Use the correct language - avoid using the words or phrases like sleeping, lost, expired, angels came down etc. The development of a child’s understanding of death.
Pre-school age (3-5)
Death is temporary, reversible.
Person is living under different circumstances.
Concrete and literal in their thinking.
Want to call or write or visit the person who died.
Want the person back.
Latency (Ages 6-8)
View death as a spirit that comes to get you.
Want the person back.
Want to know who killed the person.
Three categories of people who die: Elderly, handicapped and klutzes: therefore they are safe.
Issues of personal concern include: Is it contagious? Will it happen to me? Was it my fault? What will happen next? Is it safe? They are interested in details.
They have more adult understanding of death. Death is final, irreversible, and universal.
They often see death as a punishment for bad behavior, an acute sense of right and wrong.
They still revert to magical thinking.
They understand the biological aspects of death. Death is seen as an internal dysfunction that causes life to end.
They are interested in rituals for both pets and people.
They are concerned about how their world will change due to a particular death. Questions of what will happen now? Will there be enough money? Who will run the house?
They tend to intellectualize death – Their thoughts are often more available than their feelings. They want to keep life calm; they do not want to lose control. Sick humor as well as words like yeah, big deal, and so what, are often used.
Drawings may include broken hearts, tears or barren trees as symbols.
You may wish to discuss this further with your child this evening. Although these talks can be difficult, they do give us the opportunity to help our children develop important coping skills that can be used for a lifetime.
If you would like more information or have any questions, please do not hesitate to call Mrs. Carolyn Kelley, at 508-541-5475 ext. 1232. There are additional parent resources at our school that are readily available to you. Thank you for the support that we know you are providing for your children.