What resources can help children understand death?

Published 9:30 am Saturday, September 29, 2012

Column: Maryanne Law, Families First

Question: Are there resources to help me talk with my child about death?

Maryanne Law

Answer: Yes, thankfully, there are several and they are available to help you share explanations and engage in conversations about death with younger children, older children and adolescents.

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“How Do We Tell The Children?” is a classic written by Dan Schaefer, a funeral director who came to realize that children were often gently pushed aside, avoided or misinformed by grieving parents, relatives and friends at times of death. The step-by step guide for helping children to teens cope when someone dies includes describing how/why a death occurred to younger children:

1. Old age: When a person gets very old, her body wears out and stops working.

2. Terminal illness: Because the disease couldn’t be stopped, the person got very, very sick; his body wore out and stopped working.

3. Accident: A terrible thing happened (i.e., car crash, drowning), his body was badly hurt and couldn’t be fixed. It stopped working.

4. Miscarriage: Sometimes when a baby is just starting to grow, something happens that makes it stop. We don’t know what it was; it wasn’t anything anyone did.

5. Stillborn: Sometimes something makes a baby die before it is born. We’re not sure why, but it’s nothing anybody did or didn’t do.

6. Suicide (when there is no doubt the person killed himself): Some people’s bodies get sick and just don’t work right; and sometimes a person’s mind doesn’t work right. They can’t see things clearly and they feel the only way to solve problems is to take their lives — to kill themselves. However, this is never a solution to problems; the only reason they thought of it is that they weren’t thinking very clearly.

7. Suicide (questionable): Sometimes people take pills to relax or to sleep. Sometimes they forget how many they took and think they need more. These pills make a person’s body slow down. Too many of them make the body stop working. We don’t think the person wanted to die, but that’s what happened.

Check out the Parenting Resource Center Specialty Library (105 1st St. SE, Austin) for more helpful resources. If you would like to talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in child raising, call the toll-free Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204/Línea de Apoyo at 877-434-9528. Check out www.familiesandcommunities.org.


Maryanne Law is the executive director of the Parenting Resource Center in Austin.