Your children are sensitive to the emotions of the adults in their lives when a family member passes away. They will be frustrated and confused by changes around them if they aren't included in the family's grieving process. Here are some ways that you can talk with your children about what has happened, and help them through their own grief.
Be Prepared to Repeat Yourself
According to Scholastic, children younger than five don't understand the finality of death. They do not yet understand that physical processes keep the human body going and when that shuts down, the body dies. They won't grasp the idea that a family member is gone and will not return. It's still important to have the conversation about death with your younger children, but you will likely need to repeat the conversation until they are old enough to fully comprehend what has happened.
Involve Your Children in the Funeral Service
If you exclude your children from the funeral, they will feel as if they have been left out of an important event, but won't know why. They'll be forced to grieve on their own which adds to their confusion.
Explain to your children that going to the funeral home (such as Rose's Funeral Home Inc) is a way the family says goodbye to the family member. A child depends on rituals and routines in their life to learn, play and grow. They will understand that the funeral service is a ritual that the whole family participates in to help with their grief.
If there will be a viewing, explain this to your children and give them a choice of viewing the body. Don't force them to view it if they are scared or hesitant. The viewing can be a traumatic event for children so it's important that they have a choice whether or not to participate.
Discuss with them about what to expect at the funeral. Explain that people will be sad, quiet, and some of the adults will be crying. Relate the emotions the child sees with how they felt in the past when they lost something. This may be the first time the children see these emotions in adults so let them know that this is a normal and acceptable response from people at a funeral.
Answer All of Your Children's Questions Respectfully and Be Honest
The passing of a family member will generate many questions from your children. Don't scold or belittle them for the questions as it is one way that they are handling their own emotions. Answer them as clearly and honestly as you can and when you don't know the answer, admit it. Focus on the current loss, the funeral and how other family members are feeling.
Ways Your Children Will Respond to Their Grief
Children have not yet developed sophisticated coping mechanisms for dealing with grief. They will often show signs of physical discomfort as part of their grieving process. Headaches and stomachaches may be a way they show their sadness instead of crying.
They may also feel guilty that they had some part in the family member's death. Your support and reassurance that this isn't the case will help them through those thoughts.
Some children respond to grief with regressive behaviors. They may begin sucking their thumb again or request to sleep with you at night. These are temporary behaviors and are another way of dealing with difficult and confusing emotions.
Let your children know that the entire family is affected by the loss of the family member. Share with them that this is a difficult time for you, too. Let them know that it is important to you that they are in your life and that, together, you will all support each other in this time of sadness.