Friday, April 30, 2010

Talking to Kids About Death: What Happens When You Can't Shelter Them?

Death is a difficult subject, one that we want to shelter our children from. It’s a parent’s natural instinct; we don’t want to scare our children. We want them to feel secure and protected. What happens, then, when we can’t shelter them?

When I first became a mother, I protected my children from the issue. I can even recall rephrasing Cinderella so that the mother did not die. But then, reality struck and we lost three people in our family in a very short amount of time. I didn’t have a choice. My children had questions and I needed to provide answers.

When someone close to you dies, you become grief stricken and in shock. It’s hard enough to grasp it yourself, let alone explain it to your child. What’s Heaven? by journalist Maria Shriver helped me tremendously. This book, inspired by questions her own children asked after the death of her grandmother Rose Kennedy, is beautifully written and answers many common questions that children have.

Such as “What is heaven like?” “If heaven’s in the sky, then how come I can’t see it?” Shriver offers very simple, straight forward answers to these questions. She describes heaven as “a beautiful place up in the sky, where no one is sick…” She writes that “heaven isn’t a place you can see. It’s somewhere you believe in.” She also mentions that “Some people believe in different kinds of heaven and have different names for it.”

Another common question that she writes about is “Why are we going to bury Great-grandma in a box?” “What if she wants to get out?” “Why did Great-grandma look so different?” At this point, the mother in the story explains that “Great-grandma’s body is here but her soul, everything about her that we loved, is already up in heaven.”

This story is wordy and may seem a bit long for young children. I guess it all depends on the child and the situation. I read it to my children at age 4 and it held their attention. However, that may be due to the fact that we lost so many people and they had some very real questions. I still recommend this book to any parent dealing with the loss of a loved one. If you find it’s too long for your family, use it as a guide for yourself.

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