My husband brought his Labrador Willie with him on our first date. Willie was at our wedding. He wasn’t at the hospital when our son was born, but he did take pictures with our boy when he was just five days old. Needless to say, after 10 years and many major life events, Willie was a member of the family.
Our mischievous, always gentle, butter eating, bird hunting, loving boy let us know that it was his time to go a few weeks back. We were so very sad yet grateful for all the time we had with him and for all the unconditional love he’d shown us. The hardest part of saying goodbye was explaining to Willie’s young master, our almost 4 year old, that Willie was never coming home.
Talking about death with your kids ranks right up there as one of the most challenging things we must do as parents. Don’t be surprised if you see decreased social skills, regression in toileting, anxiousness, and needy behaviors with your young ones. We definitely saw a bit of anxiousness and neediness in our little guy. Luckily for us, we have an amazing preschool teacher who, along with leading early childhood educator Bev Bos, shared some tips on how to deal:
Children’s Understanding of Death
Ages 2 to 4: At this stage children don’t believe death is final. It is temporary and reversible. They attempt to equate it with something they know (sleep, parents going on vacation, etc). They are more interested in what death means right now (pet/person is never coming back) rather than how it
Ages 4 to 10: Children at this stage understand that everything that lives will die, although they may or may not apply this to themselves. This is fine and normal. They play many imaginary games like ghost, superheroes, and role play in an attempt to understand death and to deal with their fears. Children will often play dead and pretend to have funerals and other practices.
Ages 10+: At this stage, children understand that death is personal, inevitable, universal and final. They may have fears related to this understanding. At all ages, part of the fear of death, for children, is that they will be separated from their parents.
Helping children understand death:
- Use the word “dead.”
- Make sure the children know the pet/person who died doesn’t hurt.
- Let/encourage children to ask questions
- Have books about death and be sure to have read them already
- Allow children to grieve in their own way
- Share your feelings with the child
- One of the best ways to show support for the child is by maintaining the child’s daily routine, perhaps even simplifying the routine
- Spend extra nurturing time together
- Name what is lost, i.e. time together with your pet
- Name what is left: memories, photos, mementos, pet toys
- If asked if you are going to die, answer honestly, “No, I’m not going to die right now.”