Losing a parent, grandparent or family pet can be an exceptionally confusing time for you, but what about your little ones? I recently experienced the death of my grandmother, but I was not as affected by her death as my nephew. 

My nephew is twelve, and it struck me that his grief was compounded by his confusion, he didn’t really understand what her passing meant. He was confronted with the thought that suddenly, she wouldn’t be there anymore. 

I considered that his feelings were probably not unfamiliar to millions of other kids out there. So I pulled together a list of things that can help your child prepare for or deal with the passing of a loved one.

Pets

Many professionals recommend getting your child a pet that doesn’t have a long lifespan. This means that you can explain to your child from a young age what death means and help them to understand that it is a normal process. It is very important not to ‘replace’ their dead pet or keep the animal’s death a secret, children do know the difference and they may harbour feelings of resentment well into adulthood.

Talking

It’s important that we talk to our children about death and what it means. Sometimes children – and even adults – struggle with the concept that someone who was there yesterday or last week, isn’t there now. Preparing them with a discussion about a sick pet or relative who has a limited amount of time left can also go a long way in assisting them to prepare for and understand the situation when it arises.

Involve them

Your children might find this part confusing or overwhelming, so it might be best to take cues from them regarding this point. It is always a good idea to keep your children in the loop and keep them involved regarding any funeral or formal proceedings surrounding the death. Make sure they get to say a piece about your family pet, or ask them to write a letter to grandpa to be buried with.

Read a book

There are a lot of books available out there geared at explaining death to young people. For parents who do not have the luxury of preparing their child with a small animal, sometimes reading to them from a book can help. These books are usually best if they are written by child psychologists, because they have a better grasp on the appropriate language to use for your child.

Acknowledge their feelings

Your child may be confused, angry or become depressed. They can begin to act out, which may put extra stress on you that you do not need. It is a good idea to sit your child down and acknowledge their feelings, ask them if you can help or if they need you to answer any questions and be honest! Children are perceptive and they will know if you avoid a topic or lie to them.

Be comforting

This is beneficial for both parties because this goes both ways. Your child can become clingy or anxious because they fear more deaths, while this is incredibly normal, it is important that you reassure them. Spend time cuddling them, talking to them and always tell them when you are leaving and when you expect to return. It is also beneficial to discuss the circumstances of the death with your child, ‘grandma was sick for a very long time,’.

Coming to grips with the concept of a loved one suddenly no longer around, when they were talking to you not long ago, can be difficult for anyone. A child hasn’t yet developed the language or emotional maturity to completely understand their feelings following the death of a loved one, but with your help and a little bit of preparation, you can minimise the impact on your little people.

Did you hold a funeral for your pets? Share with us below.

Image source Shutterstock.

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  • Some good points here, thank you for posting this article.

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  • I think with all things like this, teaching kids that death is part of the natural process of life is important. Shielding them or teaching them weird fantasy stuff to make up for these things is going to cause emotional turmoil when they are older. These tips are a great start.

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  • Great tips. Another one I would add is don’t hide your tears for your kids when a loved one becomes terminal ill and dies.
    Yes, we had funerals for our pets.
    I lost my sister 8 years ago due to kidney cancer. My kids saw me crying when she became very ill and we cried together. We were able to see her twice in the half year before she died (she lived in the UK) and we traveled back to the UK for her funeral. A sad period.

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  • I lost my father early this year. It surprised me that my youngest child, my son aged 7 took it the hardest. He didn’t want to be separated from me and would fake being sick to stay home and make an amazing recovery, he kept talking about missing his grandpa and would just talk about him all the time. I ended up putting two and two together. We had long chats and I think only now, he has come to terms with it all.

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  • My son has experienced the death of close friends and elderly family members. We’ve just been honest with him and considerate of his feelings, showing our emotions and explaining it’s okay for him to feel what he does.

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  • Communication is key at difficult times like these.

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  • When my boys were young we lost our much loved cat. We made a burial site in the backyard and all stood around saying our goodbyes. They were both included and I do think it was the best thing we could have done with them.

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  • We’ve not lost pets yet in my son’s life, however, we have lost family and friends. My son, at 15, has now attended about 4 funerals – 2 just a fortnight ago. He does not attend every funeral that we do, but we talk through what has happened and discuss whether or not we/he feels it’s appropriate to attend. I’m very mindful that he needs to grieve and experience the celebration of life that a funeral provides too. It’s super important to follow-up and check in with him after all that is done. He also gets to see that it’s okay for his Dad to cry and if he feels the need, he can too. Funerals and death are part of life, but it’s important that we’re mindful of how our children experience them.

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  • Death is a very complex issue .. sure you can explain that gran dad/ma lived a long life but sickness and age took it’s toll and it was time to go but it’s a very different matter altogether when a young child has passed and you need to explain it.
    All these wonderful tips are needed and one important one more : be there always whether it be a day, a week, a month, or a year or years ..be there for a talk, comfort, a shoulder or cuddle when needed.

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  • Last year, two grandparents died. My children went to the funeral of one. For a month after, my eldest talked about funerals which strangers thought was perverse. But she was just processing the information aloud.

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  • tell them that it’s ok to feel many different feelings and to not be sure what they feel. talk to them and be there

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  • It’s hard to explain, but provided you give an example like the grandmother did then the child can compare it with something he/she knows about and is more comfortable. A greater explanation can be given when a child is old enough to understand it.

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  • It isn’t near as common as peanuts but do you realise that you can have the same allergic reaction with almond or other nuts. I have no wish to witness another situation with almonds, certainly not with a baby.

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  • Good advice. Sometimes the adults get so overwhelmed with the emotion that they forget to put things into child friendly language or avoid the subject with the children all together.

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  • I think children are able to understand death if it is explained to them in age appropriate language. It is also important to let them know that they can talk about it and ask questions whenever they need to.

    Reply

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