You may find it difficult to break the news to your children when one of your parents dies. The death of a grandparent is heartbreaking, to say the least, especially if Nana or Popo frequently babysits the kids. Your first instinct may be to sugarcoat your words to shield the kids from the pain of death. And that’s natural because, as much as possible, all parents want to protect their kids from the harsh realities of life. No one can fault you for wanting to make the loss more bearable.
However, it is a great disservice to your kids when you withhold the truth. Psychologists say that it’s possible to communicate with children about something as terrible as death. Being honest with the kids about what’s going on can help them process the changes in your family’s routine and help them recover. Here are some helpful suggestions so you can speak to your kids in a clear, loving way that they will understand.
Factors to Consider
Before sitting down with your kids for a family meeting, consider the ages of the children and their maturity levels. You can direct the tone of your conversation based on their capability to accept and understand the situation. Their emotional maturity will determine the kinds of words you can use.
As the conversion develops, allow your kids to ask questions. Reply with honest answers that they can readily understand. You can provide examples to make it easier for them to process harsh concepts. Speaking in this manner will prevent confusion as your kids process the death.
Use Clear Language
When you discuss the issue with your children, be careful with your words. Don’t use language that may mislead them into believing that their grandparents are temporarily gone and will be coming back. Words like, “Nana left us” or “We’ll see her again someday” could confuse your children. They might expect that their beloved grandparent will come back. For example, you can emphasize that Nana can no longer watch recitals or babysit to set expectations.
It would also help to avoid euphemisms like saying Popo is sleeping because kids could form a negative association with sleep. Using flowery language to describe death may backfire. Don’t be afraid to call death what it is because it is a natural part of the life cycle. Besides, if your kids end up confused, they may think you’re hiding something and they could end up resenting you for lying even if this was not your intent.
Explain Your Own Feelings
It may be difficult for kids to process the loss so give affirmation that it is okay to feel sad. Discuss your own feelings so the kids know that it may take time for things to be back on track. Tell them what will happen in the coming days, especially if there will be a viewing and funeral services. If they’re old enough, you can describe how the body will be in a nice casket surrounded by flowers and how many other guests will come to pay their last respects.
Bear in mind that children take their cues from their parents. So use this time to reassure your kids that this sadness will not last forever. Though you feel immense grief and things may not be okay now, things will get better over time. You can look through old photos and emphasize how the memories with their deceased grandparent will be in your hearts forever. In time, the kids will begin to understand and accept the devastating loss.
Give Them Time to Digest the Information
Since children are not as emotionally mature as adults, it may take time for the news to sink in. And that’s okay because even adults have a hard time accepting death. Be patient and give them time. Don’t bombard your kids with too many vivid details. Be prepared to explain a few times until they fully grasp what’s happening.
It’s okay if you fumble with the words because explaining death is really complex and difficult, especially if you have never done this before. The ultimate goal is to make your kids understand that their grandparent is gone for good and is not coming back. And if they cry, give them comfort and offer consoling words. You may even shed tears with your kids because releasing emotions is a healthy way to cope.
Explore Grief Resources
Allow your children to explore their feelings. Apart from giving hugs and kisses, you can offer grief support by encouraging them to watch children’s educational shows on death or reading books on the same theme. Bonding with your children as you mourn the death of a parent may even help with your grief process.
If your kids are still very young, you can watch with them or read the books to them. Answer queries in a manner they can understand. If they are old enough, they may want their own quiet time to explore the materials alone and discuss the contents whenever they feel ready. Keeping communication lines open will allow you to assuage your kids’ worries and ease their fear of death and the unknown.
Listen to Your Children
Listen to what your kids have to say. If they have any questions or concerns, do your best to patiently answer. Most of all, stay attuned to non-verbal communication. If your kids are particularly close to the deceased grandparent, they can end up acting up in ways that are out of their norm. For example, they may end up crying a lot, not eating, showing signs of withdrawal, or lashing out aggressively.
All of these behaviors may be a way for them to cope and could be a part of their grief journey. When this happens, sit down with your kids so they can vent their emotions. Try creative ways to deal with their feelings such as drawing or writing in a journal. Make them feel safe so they can open up to you. They need to know they can count on you to listen and be there for them, especially now that they feel insecure because their normal has been shaken up with the death of their grandparent. Continue having open talks with your kids so you can process the loss and help them heal.