Tools For Teaching About Death

Death and dying are concepts we wish we didn't have to teach our children, but these sad events are a natural part of the cycle of life and it's our responsibility to help kids come to terms with these difficult ideas. One of the ways we can help a child further his understanding is by showing him a variety of examples of birth, decay, illness, and death. Such instances abound in nature and in animal life and provide a good grounding for later experiences in the loss of loved ones of the human variety.

The Life Cycle

The seasons can be used to good advantage to illustrate the life cycle. You can teach children how bulbs flower, then the flowers, and finally the foliage, turn brown and die, but the bulb remains underground with its potential for flowering once again at the appropriate time. Many farm animals have their babies in the spring, just as many plants become green and flower at this time.

By the same token, autumn is a harbinger of the end of a current life cycle, as leaves dry up and fall to the ground, with winter becoming a period of hibernation. The dust and debris become part of the earth, adding to its fertility, and spring sees new life springing up from the detritus of the previous season. You can make a compost pile with your child to further teach the concept of "ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

Confusing Juncture

In the event that a child loses a relative such as a grandparent to death, it's important that your child feels at ease to speak about his feelings relative to the occasion. Here are some tips to help your child through this confusing juncture in his young life:

*Learn everything you can about the death, so you can answer your child's questions with authority and honesty

*Keep your answers as simple and unequivocal as possible

*Listen to your child with undivided attention

*Don't mischaracterize the event as a minor one

*Be ready for your child to display much emotion or little—both reactions are normal

*Whenever your child feels like talking, be ready for him

*Give your child a variety of ways in which he can out his feelings—one or more of the things you try may be the most cathartic of all, be it music, talking, writing, acting, or hard physical exercise

*Don't decide that enough is enough, give your child as much time as he needs to grieve and speak about his experience


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