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Talking with Children about Death
By Elizabeth Green, M.S

Losing a loved one through death is a universal human experience that radically impacts children, adolescents, and families. Death is a part of life and grief is a natural and normal response to the death of a loved one. Children often receive many confusing messages about death and although difficult, talking with children about death aids in the grief process.

Truly connecting with a child is always important, but is especially so when the child is grieving. When a grieving child asks a question, ultimately the conversation that results- the connection made with the child- is more important than the answer. To truly support a child in grief, it's important to allow a child to be "not okay" without trying to "fix" them. We can't make everything "okay" for the child, but we can support them, we can hear them, we can love them. Responses to questions posed by a child in grief should deepen our connection with that child and allow them to feel safe enough in the future to ask more questions.

Caregivers should be honest and direct with children when talking about death. It is best to use simple but correct words that are accurate for the child's age. It is common to not know what to say in answer to some questions. Be honest and say "I don't know. I've often wondered about that myself." Or, "Tell me more about how are you feeling (or what you are thinking)." We can also repeat back to the child what they said, in our own words.

Developmental variables may influence a children's grief response. This means that as a child matures, more sophisticated language and cognitive abilities may result in more questions and may lead to more conversations.

Elizabeth Green is Individual Family Focused Therapist, Pace School and Partial Hospitalization Program. For more information on Pace School, call (412) 244-1900 or visit the website at www.paceschool.org.

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