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Monday, March 7, 2011

How to Talk to Your Child about Death

It's tough talking to kids about some topics. Death, in particular, gives adults a hard time. We usually put off talking about it until it's a relevant issue in our lives and the lives of our children; until we ourselves are grieving. We put it off because we don't want to burden our children with sad thoughts, we don't want them to worry about such things. As parents, we strive to preserve the innocence of childhood for as long as we can.

But death is a natural part of living. Pets die. People die. If we talk to our children about death, just like we talk to them about the weather and about eating healthy foods and about their day at school, we better prepare them for coping with it. In her book, Why Do People Die?, Cynthia MacGregor helps parents explain death to their children.

Her perceptive analogy comparing toys and clothes wearing out, something any child who has ever had a favorite pair of shoes or doll or t-shirt can understand, to a body wearing out makes the abstract notion of death more concrete. MacGregor also tackles the many emotions a child might experience while grieving and lets the child know that these emotions are acceptable and normal. Excellent iillustrations accompany the text.

Although a very useful tool for parents, the book almost provides too much information in one sitting for a child to absorb. More than simply covering why people die and how we might feel about it, it also discusses funerals, the different kinds and what children can expect to happen before, during and after, and various beliefs about what happens to people after they die.

Nonetheless, Why Do People Die? offers excellent talking points to parents who may have difficulty finding the right words to explain death to their children. It's a great conversation starter between parent and child, letting children know it's okay to ask questions; that death is natural and not a taboo subject.

I recommend that parents read sections of the book with their child at separate sittings, allowing time for the child to process the information. In addition, let your child keep the book to look through on his or her own. Finally, be willing to admit that death is tough for you to talk about, that it makes you feel sad, too, and to engage in even the uncomfortable conversations that may arise from your child pondering the issue of human mortality.

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