So how do you talk to kids about death? How do you do it in ways that are age appropriate?
Last Saturday, I heard Kimberly Thomson speak at the PAIL Network conference (more on that next month!). Kimberly is the National Director of Rainbows Canada. This organization is dedicated to helping children learn to cope with grief and other traumas. Her inspiring talk helped convince me that by talking to our children about their brothers, I am not harming them or traumatizing them. Being open and honest about death, the impact of death on our family and the place Nate and Sam hold in our hearts actually helps them learn to cope with all of life’s upheavals. Children who have faced a death in the family, and learned to cope with the loss effectively, often grow up to be more compassionate, caring and resilient adults. Whether you have living children or not, I encourage you to check out this great organization and their resources at rainbows.org. You can find Rainbows chapters in the US and Canada as well as Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa and Singapore.
First of all, you tell the truth. Kids are way smarter than we give them credit for.
Second, you answer their questions honestly. They won’t ask the questions unless they want to know the answers. If they are asking, it shows they have the capacity to understand. Remember, it is okay to show your own emotions. You can tell them you are sad. You can demonstrate you are sad by crying. All these behaviours are part of healthy grief. It is also okay to say “I don’t know.” “I don’t know why your brothers died. I don’t know what happens to us when we die, although my beliefs tell me it is something good, I can’t be more specific than that. It is also normal for them to be afraid of death. We all are, in some ways. We just try not to let that fear ruin everything else.”
My daughter is five. She knows about her brothers, talks about her brothers and understands the role they play in our family. She is a little confused about how they can be babies but still be ‘older’ than her, but then again, so am I. My rainbow son is only two. He pointed to his brothers’ urns and asked “Are there cookies in there?” I just said, “No,” and let him go back to playing.
When he asks me for more details, I’ll tell him all about his brothers.
Amanda Ross-White is the proud mother of four beautiful children, including her twin boys Nate and Sam, who were stillborn in 2007. She is eternally grateful to watch her rainbow children, daughter Rebecca and son Alex, grow around her. She is also the author of Joy at the End of the Rainbow: A Guide to Pregnancy After a Loss, which won second place in the American Journal of Nursing’s Book of the Year Awards (Consumer Health).