Talking with Kids of Any Age about Sex and Death

See the Current issue of Grand Magazine for my latest column on talking with Kids about Sex, it’s featured on the cover which holds the Table of Contents … but more important currently with all the mortality from Covid read my earlier article I wrote which focuses on death.

Grief is something we all need to address at some point in our lives. This keen sense of mental suffering over an affliction or loss is part of the healing process and part of life. For many of us it is difficult to acknowledge. Whether it is the death of a pet, or separation of grandchildren from grandparents for whatever reason, or an actual death of a loved one; grief needs be faced.

These Talking Tips will help you and children communicate rather than stuff these issues. When you least expect it later in life, long-term avoidance can erupt in mental or physical illness.

• Assess their understanding – consider a child’s age and stage of development before giving too much information at one time. How close they were to the person gone may affect how much of the circumstances of the death or loss you wish to share.

• Keep it a dialogue by asking questions about what they already know … and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something.

• Watch your language – Be truthful and use the word death or separation. Avoid confusing euphemisms like “lost” or “gone away” or “went to sleep” or “went to a better place.” These can cause eating and sleeping difficulties at any age.

• Anticipate emotions – For both boys and girls tears should be welcomed as important. Christiane Northrup, MD author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom calls them emotional excision and drainage.

• Reassure. Reassure. Children need to know immediately that this is not their fault. Nothing they may have said or done could have contributed to this situation. They need to know they will be taken care of.

• Involve children in decision making about whether and when to attend a memorial, or make plans to honor the missing grandparent in some way. Suggest writing to them or their spirit on postcards to let them know how they’ll be doing.

• In particularly troublesome situations involving drugs or suicide, talk about the person who died in a caring and respectful way. Get some professional help for yourself, and possibly family therapy involving the children.

• Model self-care: “When I am sad and upset, I like to exercise and talk with friends … what helps you?

• And last but not least among the books you read regularly to kids, consider these popular children’s books about death and loss.

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