How do you deal with a death situation

Death and Sorrow> Children

1. The most important points in brief

Adults often shy away from including children in family grief or death situations. It is important that in such cases children have the opportunity to talk about death and grief in their environment in order to be able to process the changes they have experienced. When children ask about death and grief, one should answer as age-appropriate, concrete and open as possible. Evasive or trivializing explanations can have a rather detrimental effect.

2. Parents are also affected

Adults often want to protect children. But children initially experience death as nothing terrifying. They are curious and ask about everything. Probably the hardest children's questions to answer are those after death. Your own insecurities and fears can make open discussions with the children difficult.

In the event of death, children experience adults: consternation, crying, apathy, aggression, anger at work, helplessness, ... They sense the insecurity and react to it: every child in its own way. Especially if the child's parents are severely affected by the death, should the environment to make sure that the parents still have the strength to accompany their children.

Children should always be included, not excluded. Adults should not try to hide their feelings from children but try to put them into words and explain them.

3. Understanding of death by age group

Children can only grasp death with all its consequences with increasing age. In conversation, it is therefore important to limit yourself to what you can understand. This is very different for children of the same age, which is why experts consciously refrain from giving specific age information.

  • Toddlers
    already feel losses, but cannot yet classify dying and death. It is important to care when expressing feelings of loss.
    As children continue to develop, they become more aware of death and loss. This can lead to separation fears that parents should take seriously. Affection and conversation can alleviate these fears.
  • Kindergarten children
    can increasingly grasp death and grief. They easily upset adults with direct and unbiased questions.
    As children continue to develop, they begin to think about what happens after death.
  • Elementary school children
    sometimes have very clear ideas about death and mourning.
    In the next step of development, children realize that death can hit them too and that it is irreversible. They ask about dying and death.
  • After elementary school
    the meaning of death for children approaches that of adults.
  • With the teenage years
    religious, spiritual and philosophical considerations can gain in importance.
  • Teenagers
    sometimes suppress the thought of death and sometimes have difficulty showing their emotional concern.

4. Dealing with children's issues

Children show what they understand and how much they want to know. Answering their children's questions can be a challenge for grieving parents. Children's questions should be answered as openly as possible, but it should Not be explained more than the child wants to know.

Describing, trivializing terms of death should be avoided. They only feed hopes that inevitably lead to disappointment. Death is final.

When children get evasive answers, they feel that their questions are not wanted and ask no further questions. Children need the assurance that their questions will be answered honestly. When asked questions ("Will Grandma go to Heaven?"), Adults should simply admit that they do not know everything. Or, if they are rooted in the belief, that they believe something for sure, but there is no evidence. As a consolation, it should be mentioned that it is the same for all people.

Children's questions depend heavily on their age. But one thing can be said in principle: children, including teenagers, usually ask about specific things. What happens at the funeral? Where is grandpa now?

In general, one should speak of the deceased when the child asks about it (do not keep silent about him). It is also normal for children to include the deceased in their play.

Parents should convey to the child that they can come up with all of their questions and take opportunities to talk to them about dying, death and their experiences. Parents should consciously take their time for this.

4.1. Typical questions and possible answers

  • Why do you close your eyes to the dead?
    The open eyes would dry out and disfigure the face. In addition, it is very difficult for us living to endure the broken gaze of the dead.
  • Why are dead people washed, are they dirty?
    Dying is exhausting, your last strength is dwindling. This is why people sweat, they lose saliva and tear fluid and when the muscles finally relax, the bowels and bladder can empty. That is why we wash the dead.
  • Mama do you have to die too?
    Children should know that all people die. But you should give them the security, especially in the case of losses in close proximity, that it is usually very far away and that you are there for the child. "You don't need to be afraid, I am here for you."
  • Why do you wear black clothes at the funeral service?
    Black is a sign of sadness. It shows that everyone is sad and that also helps when you know you are not alone.
  • Where is grandma now?
    I have grandma in my heart and I like to remember her. And how is that with you?

4.2. What not to say

In dealing with death, formulations have crept in that play down death. Here are some common explanations and why they should be avoided.

  • The grandma is sleeping.
    This initially satisfies children. But if the grandma doesn't wake up after days, children may be afraid of going to bed and have insomnia.
  • Grandpa can no longer come to us.
    If the child does not get any further explanation, it may look to blame for the grandfather's absence and wear himself down with self-reproach.
  • Mom and Dad have an important appointment. That's nothing for you.
    Children sense that something drastic is happening (has happened) and experience that they are being excluded. This is a major breach of trust and can lead to the child's withdrawal.
  • Aunt Anna died because she was very ill.
    Illness does not necessarily lead to death. It should be made clear that it was a particularly serious illness and that many people will get well again. The same applies to formulations such as "... died in the hospital."

5. Involve children in dying, death and grief

Basically, children should be included as much as possible. Exclusion in the context of loss can be difficult for children to endure.

5.1. Dying phase

If relatives are dying, you should take the children with you, several times if possible. This can be used to gently prepare the child for the fact that the sick person will not live long.

You should explain to them how ill e.g. the grandfather is, why he can no longer get up, why the monitor beeps, why the tube leads into his veins. The alternative to inclusion is often to hide or play down: Then children are surprised by death or they feel betrayed. This, in addition to grief, can become a burden on the family.

However, one must also pay attention to how much the patient is stressed. Experience shows that visiting children is more likely to distract many patients from the suffering. But there are also terminally ill people who "just want peace and quiet".

5.2. farewell

Children should be given the opportunity to say goodbye and be included in the processes in an age-appropriate manner.

  • Laying out
    The open laying out (after death> saying goodbye) at home, in the morgue or at the undertaker is an important and later non-replaceable opportunity to say goodbye to the dead - also for children. You can touch the dead person if you want to - this is how you understand what lifeless / dead means. The fear of corpse poison is completely unfounded in the first few days.
  • Visit of the pastor / funeral speaker
    To discuss the funeral service, ask the pastor or funeral speaker to come to your home. This gives them the opportunity to get to know the family in their natural environment and to adjust to it. And the family does not have to worry about finding childcare workers. The children can join the conversation, join in or leave - whatever they want.
  • Church service, memorial service and funeral
    Take the children with you and explain to them step by step (if possible beforehand) what will happen. Of course, this assumes that adults also know this. Undertakers and pastors can provide all information here. If a child does not want to go to the funeral, they should be encouraged, for example, to write a letter or paint a picture that is placed in the coffin with the deceased.
  • Cremation, grave and cemetery
    Make sure that there are no frightening ideas that the child transfers to himself, e.g. "locked in a coffin", "buried alive", "alone in the dark".

6. Child grief

Children often express their grief differently than adults would expect:

  • Some laugh instead of crying to protect themselves from the incomprehensible.
  • Some become aggressive because they are overwhelmed.
  • Some are especially nice so that the parents don't get even sadder.
  • Some may develop fantasies that are more frightening than reality.

6.1. Dealing with the feeling of sadness

  • Giving children the chance to learn how to grieve.
    Parents should show their grief and not cover up anything. In this way, they give their children the opportunity to experience grief in others and their own grief.
  • There Giving care, body contact, security.
    In this way, children can also experience that togetherness is comforting. Make sure that various grief reactions (initial reactions to the death of close relatives) are respected.
  • Giving the child the opportunity to deal with their feelings, encouraging them to show feelings.
    Parents should take their time when the child is crying or scared. You should talk to him about the feelings and give him an opportunity to express his feelings.
    Children often go easy on their parents because they don't want them to become even sadder. They secretly cry or avoid the sad mood at home.
  • Play, paint, do handicrafts, work.
    Encourage children to paint, work and do handicrafts. Some children don't speak, but suddenly they paint completely different pictures. Ask what the pictures mean. Listen to the children's interpretations, not interpret them yourself. Do not dissuade a child from self-chosen motifs such as coffin, cross, church etc., but give the child his time.
    When playing games, especially role-playing games, the deceased may suddenly come to visit or the children may play dying and funeral. This is unproblematic and her (very healing) way of dealing with what she has experienced.
  • Provide answers to possible feelings of guilt.
    Many children believe that they are somehow to blame for the death of a loved one. Pay attention to corresponding indications and remove them if necessary.

6.2. To be there

  • Giving the child the assurance that the parents will be there for their child for a long time to come.
    The loss of a loved one makes children fear that others may suddenly die too. Parents' assurance that they will live a long time helps counter this fear - but also that all people will have to die at some point.
  • Children should know that children can die too.
    But parents should make it very clear that this happens very rarely: Only in the case of very serious illnesses or accidents, for example.
  • Be patient, take your time.
    Older children and adolescents in particular may avoid the sad atmosphere at home. That they show no reaction whatsoever. Parents should then signal openness, but not push. That balance is difficult to maintain.
  • Convey security and normalcy.
    Life goes on. Children want to live. What is important and above all right is what helps the family to continue living. For example, when the annual summer vacation comes up, it is up to the family to decide whether they need a change of scenery right now or whether they cancels the vacation because it brings too much additional unrest.

7. Who can help?

  • Marriage and family chaplains, marriage and family counseling centers of other providers, institutions for terminal care, self-help groups.
  • Further contact points also among parents in crisis.

8. Related links

Sadness

Children of parents with cancer

Last update: August 19, 2019

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