If you have children, the chances are that at some point they will raise the issue of death with you. As children approach adolescence, they become aware of the reality of death in a personal way. Whereas they understood before in a general sense that things die, now they are beginning to understand that one day death will come to them, too. This can be a particularly disturbing and even frightening thing for some children. If you notice this issue arise with your child, here are some tips for handling it in a way that helps your child process the reality of death without fixating on it in a way that steals his joy of living today.
Ask your child what they are afraid of. Talk to your child about what scares them about dying. Are they afraid of the process? Did they see something on TV or hear something at school that is bringing up this issue? Sometimes even a news story about a young person’s death can bring up the reality and fear of dying for a child.
Explain your spiritual beliefs. Even if you and your spouse have differing views, explain them to your child and tell them what brings you comfort when you think about death. Let them know that we will all die someday and acknowledge that the unknown can be scary. Also, remind them that they are very young and most likely have very many more years to live before they die.
Focus on living. Since we have little control over death, it is important to help your child focus on living and the positive aspects of their life. Make a list with your child of all the things you are thankful for in life. Have your child write down the food, places, activities and people that bring them joy. Encourage them to do something they enjoy to get their mind off of death and onto living. Cook a special new meal together. Go to the park or out for an ice cream. Have them write a letter to a friend or relative telling them they love them. Have them make a special craft item for a close friend or family member.
The best thing to do is to help your child deal with their fear of death head on, in a real and genuine way. Don’t brush your child off but rather, encourage them to let the reality of death motivate them to live life to the fullest, recognising each day for the precious gift that it is.