Overcast   33.0F  |  Forecast »
Edit Module

Helping Kids Cope With Death

Whether it's a grandparent, parent or friend, at some point children are going to experience losing a loved one. Here are five ways to talk to your child about loss.

When funeral director David Techner talks to children about death, they always ask, "Will I die too?" And when Techner answers with a matter-of-fact "Yes, of course you will die. Every living thing dies," an audible gasp from adults invariably sucks the air out of the room.

It can be difficult to talk to kids about death, says Techner, owner of the Ira Kaufman Chapel funeral home in Southfield and a leading expert on the issue. A parent's first instinct is to protect her child from the pain and fear associated with loss, but Techner has made a career out of helping families handle this sensitive subject. Here, the author of A Candle for Grandpa and co-creator of the documentary Generation to Generation shares five things parents should consider.

1. Breaking the news

Techner is passionate about helping parents cope with death due to a personal experience. When he was 9, he came home from school one day to a lawn full of cars and a house overflowing with relatives. His beloved grandfather had died after a prolonged illness, and it was the first Techner had heard of it.

"My parents had already planned the funeral and were sitting Shiva (a weeklong period of mourning in Jewish tradition), but didn't know how to tell me." Techner didn't get to visit his "Pa Sam" in the hospital or go to the funeral – something he regrets to this day. Techner now takes special care to counsel families and maintains it is never too early to talk to children about death. "The best surprise is no surprise at all," he says.

2. Physical vs. Spiritual death

Even very young children can understand physical death when it is explained in simple terms. Grandpa still has eyes, but he can't see anymore. He still has legs, but he can't walk anymore. "And by the way, he doesn't have to pee and poop anymore," Techner explains to children. "When you tell a 4-year-old that, they really get it."

Yet facts fall short when it comes to what happens to the spirit, so Techner encourages parents to share their beliefs. Do you believe in an afterlife where loved ones are reunited? Do you feel grandpa's spirit is carried on in the hearts of the living? Speak with your spouse about a unified way to convey your beliefs, then ask your child what he thinks will happen to grandpa's spirit. "That's a crucial question," Techner says.

3. Make them comfortable

Whether you are visiting a sick family member at the hospital, attending a funeral or confronting the reality of life without a loved one, it's best to give children all the facts you can. Techner physically walks children through the funeral home and points out where they will sit, where the rabbi will stand, and what the rabbi will talk about.

In more difficult cases, such as young children facing the loss of a parent, Techner says questions may hinge on practical matters, such as who will drive them to school, pack their lunches and do their laundry. It is normal for children to focus on themselves and their needs, and parents should be reassuring that the details of life will be taken care of.

4. Focus on the positive

All along, talk not about the sorrow of death but the joys of your loved one's life. Speak of the funeral in terms of a celebration, and let your child know it is a time for friends and relatives to tell stories of grandpa's life, stories your child is an important part of.

5. Will I die?

Ultimately, there's no avoiding the jarring questions. The ones parents wish to avoid the most: "Will you die?" And, more importantly: "Will I?" Techner says the best way to answer is in a straightforward, upbeat way, with a heaping dose of perspective. The average lifespan of someone born today is 90 years, which is an eternity to children. Point out that they have a very long time to live, and that you and your spouse do everything you can to stay healthy, so you'll be around for a long time, too.

Once your child begins to ponder death, she will surely have moments of anxiety over the unknown – but don't we all? She'll take comfort knowing you're there to talk about the facts as well as the philosophy.

"Tell them don't worry about when you're going to die. Worry about how you're going to live. Have fun, enjoy it and make the world a better place," Techner says. "That's what we're here for."

Add your comment:
Edit Module
Edit Module
Advertisement
Edit Module

More »Latest Articles & Blog Posts

Craft Review: Epson's LabelWorks Printable Ribbon Kit

Craft Review: Epson's LabelWorks Printable Ribbon Kit

This cool family crafting tool isn't just great for creating ordinary labels. It's also a handy holiday tool for gift wrapping and other creative DIY projects.

Make Cute Penguins with Candy Aisle Crafts Book

Make Cute Penguins with Candy Aisle Crafts Book

This delicious title features super creative, clever and easy crafts that southeast Michigan families can make with a simple trip to the grocery store.

Michigan Mitten Free Printable Greeting Card Craft

Michigan Mitten Free Printable Greeting Card Craft

Want to make the season bright, with a distinct dash of hometown flair? Our template is the perfect starting point for an easy, impressive card kids can make.

Meet Angelina, Metro Parent December 2014 CoverKid – VIDEO

Meet Angelina, Metro Parent December 2014 CoverKid – VIDEO

All bundled up and ready for winter, this 6-year-old Canton kid is ready to lead southeast Michigan to some fun events – and make you laugh out loud!

Elsa's Icy Braid: How to Create a Disney Princess Hairdo

Elsa's Icy Braid: How to Create a Disney Princess Hairdo

The super cool character has a signature hair look. Recreate it with this guide from the book Disney Frozen Hairstyles: Inspired by Anna and Elsa.

Tips on Teaching Kids The Joy of Giving Presents

Tips on Teaching Kids The Joy of Giving Presents

How to help kids learn the value of giving presents this holiday season – not just receiving them.

College Blues: Signs and Solutions

College Blues: Signs and Solutions

Things change once teens graduate from high school and sometimes those changes can really impact their mental state. Here's how to identify and help with kids' at-school problems when they're home...

Edit Module
Advertisement
Edit Module
Advertisement
Edit Module
Advertisement