Coping with a Death in the Family

Ever since her grandpa’s funeral, my daughter seems obsessed with death. I answer her questions frankly and honestly. Am I handling this right?

Dr. Greene`s Answer:

It can be rough on everyone in the family when Grandpa dies. Questions, uncertainties, fears, and sorrow are all common and past hurts and fears often reverberate once again. Kids of all ages are likely to have many questions, even long after their loved one’s death. Each question does deserve an honest and simple answer from you. Being open teaches them that it is acceptable to talk about it, and it sounds like your answers and reassurances are right on target.

It’s important to take a child’s age into account when you choose words and explanations related to death. Try to explain things in terms that she can relate to…that she can understand. Once you have explained something, be sure that your child understood what you said. They may ask the same question time and time again, so be prepared to repeat yourself.

We also need to remember that, as adults, we very well may not have all the answers to their questions, particularly when it comes to death. It is OK to tell your child that you just don’t know.

Sometimes art, in its various forms, can be a good way for kids to work through some of these things. For instance, you could do little dramas where a child isn’t feeling well and a toy ambulance comes and helps the child. Use dramas, stories, or pictures to make the solution as tangible as possible.

For more great advice on this topic, I recommend visiting Hospicenet.org and reading their article entitled “Talking to Children about Death.”

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.

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