One of the first things to consider when telling a child about a death is what is how you are handling the news of the loss. If you are upset, it may be a good idea to have support there when you talk to the child, such as a family member, close friend, or professional who specializes in grief. Here are some general guidelines that may help when breaking the news:
• Tell the child about the death honestly and in simple terms. Avoid vague phrases such as 'passed away' or 'went to a better place'
• Provide a safe environment for the child to express their feelings
• Give the child permission to ask questions and answer them truthfully
• Let the child know what to expect over the next few days
• Allow the child to make their own decisions about participating in memorial services and viewing the body if it is suitable for viewing
• Provide other opportunities for the child to celebrate the life of the loved one who died
• Assure the child that the death was not their fault
• Reassure the child that they will be cared for and supported
• Let the child know that you will be there for future questions

( website: www.griefwatch.com/child-grief)

Developmental Stages

Studies show that children go through a series of stages in their understanding of death. For example, preschool children usually see death as reversible, temporary, and impersonal. Watching cartoon characters on television miraculously rise up whole again after having been crushed or blown apart tends to reinforce this notion.
Between the ages of five and nine, most children are beginning to realize that death is final and that all living things die, but still they do not see death as personal. They harbor the idea that somehow they can escape through their own ingenuity and efforts. During this stage, children also tend to personify death. They may associate death with a skeleton or the angel of death, and some children have nightmares about them.
From nine or ten through adolescence, children begin to comprehend fully that death is irreversible, that all living things die, and that they too will die someday. Some begin to work on developing philosophical views of life and death. Teenagers, especially, often become intrigued with seeking the meaning of life. Some youngsters react to their fear of death by taking unnecessary chances with their lives. In confronting death, they are trying to overcome their fears by confirming their "control" over mortality.

( website: https://www.hospicenet.org/html/talking.html)

Additional resources on telling a child about a death may be found under the Guidance department tab on the Mt. View School homepage.

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