GUIDELINES FOR HELPING CHILDREN COPE WITH THEIR EMERGING AWARENESS AND UNDERSTANDING OF DEATH

  • Do not assume that children, even young children, have no awareness of death
  • Accept that most children are curious about many aspects of life and death
  • Acknowledge that death and loss are not absent from the fantasy lives of children
  • Recognize that death-related themes and events are part of the ordinary environment of children’s lives, as in play activities and fairy tales
  • Grant that healthy, normal children are likely to encounter death-related events in their own lives, as well as through the media and in the world around them
  • Appreciate that most children have thoughts and feelings about death and that they make an effort to grasp or understand death when it comes into their lives
  • Be aware that many adults approach children with a stage-based schema in mind regarding the child’s understanding of death at various ages
  • Acknowledge that state-based theories of the development of the children’s understandings of death are not undesirable in themselves, but they can lead us astray when we apply them uncritically, too rigidly, or in oversimplified ways
  • Concede that any sound theory of the development of children’s understanding of death is likely to be valid in a broad, general way
  • Know that any sound theory of the development of children’s understandings of death must be applied in a careful and sensitive way to match the realities of a particular child’s life
  • Recognize that chronological age is only a crude indicator of cognitive development; it may not be a precise guide for may individual children
  • Be conscious of the fact that the concept of death is not a simple and uncomplicated notion; it has many dimensions and implications
  • Understand that children are not likely to grasp each of the central dimensions of the concepts of death or all of its implications at once. That is one reason they repeat their questions about death or ask them again in different ways
  • Appreciate that adults who are aware of the complexity of the concept of death will be able to approach children with a more sensitive ear than if they merely focuses on undifferentiated concepts of finality and universality
  • Realize that one good way - perhaps the only effective way - to gain insight into a child’s understanding of death is to establish a relationship of trust and confidence and to listen carefully to the child’s comments, questions, and concerns about death
  • Make an effort to answer a child’s questions about death and to respond to the concerns that they underlie such questions in an honest, accurate, and helpful way
  • Frame your answers and responses in a way that are suitable to the child’s capacities and needs. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”