As your children grow into adolescents and teenagers, they may start to explore how they feel about mourning rituals and the afterlife. Encourage your children to learn and take active parts in your religion if you have one, and talk about these rituals even when there isn’t a relative or friend who has recently died. Explain the importance of traditions and ceremonies, and encourage your children to explore other culture’s views on death and mourning rituals. In terms of funerals, it’s important to prepare your children for what will take place and then gauge how comfortable they are with participating in the process. Some people think that not attending a funeral is a sign of disrespect, but everyone mourns differently, and for some (even children), mourning is more of a private process.
It can be easy to criticize and scrutinize the posthumous behavior of public figures like Bobby Kristina after losing her mother, but we’re looking at a young woman who not only lost her mother, but lost her in front of the whole world. Understand that teens are already in an uphill battle with hormones and emotions, which dealing with a death only intensifies. Teens usually experience death in two extremes: They go through a period where their youth makes them feel invincible and they may engage in dangerous risky behavior since it’s difficult for them to associate death with youth. On the other hand, they may feel completely vulnerable upon recognizing their own mortality. Try to emphasize a mindset that’s safely rested in the middle; urge them to be cautious and avoid engaging in unhealthy behavior, but offer them the space to live and learn and let them know death is something that cannot be controlled or manipulated.
Fortunately, for most children, death remains an abstract concept until they are much older. They may hear about it on TV or lose a pet, but most children will not have to deal with the death of a close friend or relative early in life. That doesn’t mean that as a parent that you should be any less prepared for the discussion. The following tips may offer some guidance or help as you prepare for the other important talk:
1. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
As a parent, you may feel like you must have all of the answers and this might put you at risk to say anything, true or not, just to spare your child’s feelings. Your child will have a lot of questions, but you don’t have to pretend to have all of the answers. There’s also nothing wrong with seeking professional help or the assistance of friends or relatives.
2. Be patient with the grieving process.
Children may mourn in unexpected ways. You may have a child who doesn’t want to immediately talk about his/her feelings because they can’t put words to them without crying uncontrollably about something that seems irrelevant and unrelated. Make yourself available to talk when needed and maintain an effort to teach about grieving in healthy ways.
3. Help a child seek closure.
Ceremonies such as funerals allow us to bring closure to painful, emotional situations so that we can begin to move on. Even if it’s not a funeral, it can be visiting the grave, tying a picture and letter to a balloon or tossing ashes into the sea. It’s just as important for children to come to peaceful resolution when dealing with death.
4. Highlight happy memories.
When it comes to pets and loved ones, a good way to break the ice and make room for emotion is to talk about the good times. A funny picture or video may bring feelings of laughter and joy that help children understand that although physically that person may have passed away, the memories and emotions last a lifetime.
Found yourself forced to talk about death with your child?
Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee.
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