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How to talk about death with children

Don’t be scared, it is Halloween! Everyone is dressing up! Look at the skeleton! How many times have we told something similar to our children?

 

Halloween can be such a fun time but also it can be scary and overwhelming for our little ones. Everything is prepared to scare you and it can definitely be TOO MUCH for children (well, and for me, too!). It is not easy for little kids to differentiate between reality and fantasy, so although we know that everything is fake and that it is meant to be fun, they might be living the situation very differently. This is why we want to talk about how to be aware of our children’s feelings to enjoy a more respectful Halloween. We translated this short text from @pequefelicidad that we think summarizes our thoughts about this:

 

  • Let me be creative
  • Respect me if I don’t want to wear a costume
  • Show me that violence is not funny
  • Please, don’t scare me if I don’t like it
  • Don’t make fun of my fears
  • If I ask about it, let’s talk about death

 

And following the last topic above, children may be asking about death and it is important how and what we communicate about this with them. Death is in many cases a topic we don’t feel comfortable talking about or that we don’t know how to approach it with our children. We always recommend talking about death from an honest and respectful approach, using simple, concrete and clear words that your children can understand, but never lying to them.

 

It is really difficult for children to understand that death is something permanent, and it can be really confusing when we use sentences as “they put the dog to sleep”. Take your time, this is a topic that will take place during many conversations. Put children’s emotions into words “I can see you feel scare/sad…” and be present, giving them comfort so they feel safe. Talk about it from a positive perspective, emphasizing how we can remember that person (or animal) through the things we have done together and the memories we have. And it is also ok to cry together, to show our feelings.

 

Books are a great tool that we can use. Here are some of the ones we have used, and we really like.

[click on the image or title for a direct link to the book]

The Heart and The Bottle (by Oliver Jeffers)

There is a wonder and magic to childhood. We don’t realize it at the time, of course . . . yet the adults in our lives do. They encourage us to see things in the stars, to find joy in colors and laughter as we play.

But what happens when that special someone who encourages such wonder and magic is no longer around? We can hide, we can place our heart in a bottle and grow up . . . or we can find another special someone who understands the magic. And we can encourage them to see things in the stars, find joy among colors and laughter as they play.

The invisible string (by Patrice Karst)

Parents, educators, therapists, and social workers alike have declared The Invisible String the perfect tool for coping with all kinds of separation anxiety, loss, and grief. In this relatable and reassuring contemporary classic, a mother tells her two children that they’re all connected by an invisible string. “That’s impossible!” the children insist, but still they want to know more: “What kind of string?” The answer is the simple truth that binds us all: An Invisible String made of love. Even though you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel it deep in your heart, and know that you are always connected to the ones you love. Does everybody have an Invisible String? How far does it reach? Does it ever go away? This heartwarming picture book for all ages explores questions about the intangible yet unbreakable connections between us, and opens up deeper conversations about love.

The Memory Box: a box about grief (by Joanna Rowland)

“I’m scared I’ll forget you…”

From the perspective of a young child, Joanna Rowland artfully describes what it is like to remember and grieve a loved one who has died. The child in the story creates a memory box to keep mementos and written memories of the loved one, to help in the grieving process. Heartfelt and comforting, The Memory Box will help children and adults talk about this very difficult topic together. The unique point of view allows the reader to imagine the loss of any they have loved – a friend, family member, or even a pet. A parent guide in the back includes information on helping children manage the complex and difficult emotions they feel when they lose someone they love, as well as suggestions on how to create their own memory box.

 

Lifetimes: the beautiful way to explain death to children (byBryan Mellonie Robert Ingpen)

When the death of a relative, a friend, or a pet happens or is about to happen . . . how can we help a child to understand?

Lifetimes is a moving book for children of all ages, even parents too. It lets us explain life and death in a sensitive, caring, beautiful way. Lifetimes tells us about beginnings. And about endings. And about living in between. With large, wonderful illustrations, it tells about plants. About animals. About people. It tells that dying is as much a part of living as being born. It helps us to remember. It helps us to understand.

 

 

Where are you? (by Laura Olivieri)

Where Are You: A Child’s Book About Loss is a kind and supportive text with beautiful illustrations designed to help children of all ages cope with the loss of a loved one. It is created with love and care so that even the youngest readers will find comfort during this stressful and difficult time.