Talking About Death

Talking About Death

There couldn’t be a more dreaded topic for a parent to discuss with their child than death. But death is a part of life, and the feeling of loss is one thing every human has experienced and can relate to. The sadness around death makes us want to avoid the topic completely. But what if you simply can’t? Where and how do you start?

 

Young children know more about death than we realise. They see and hear things from parents and television, read about it in fairytales, and encounter dead bugs or birds when playing outside. But when it hits close to home, it’s natural for children to ask a lot of questions or want to hear what happened to a loved one. They may even involve death in their pretend play, as Lily did in the “Goodbye Seabird” episode of Lily’s Driftwood Bay.

 

In this episode the community has lost a friend, Razorbill the old Seabird, and they are all grappling with how to understand it and what to do. If you are struggling with a recent death or simply want to make your child aware of the loss that others around you are going through, this episode could be a good place to start the conversation with your little one.

 

Be clear

Using phrases like “he has passed on” or “he’s gone to a better place” may seem like ways to lessen the blow, but to a young child they can be confusing and sound as though the person might come back. It’s better to be as clear as possible, as Nonna did by gently stating that Razorbill is dead.

 

What happened?

Children try to understand what happened and it is important that we are truthful and clear in the explanation so as not to instil fear in their own mortality. Being told that someone got sick or was in an accident and died can be terrifying to young children because they have likely been sick before or it may make them fearful to travel in cars or participate in other activities. It is important to reassure them in a way to help them understand that not all sicknesses or accidents lead to death. In this episode, Nonna explains that Razorbill got ill, but his body was not strong enough to get better. This is factual yet explains that death is not the only result of sickness.

 

It’s okay to cry

When comforting someone we have a tendency to say “don’t cry” or “it will be alright” but it is okay for your children to cry, and it is okay for you to cry in front of your children. When Bull doesn’t know what to say Lily tells him to just say what he feels, but sometimes there is nothing to say that will make it better. Sometimes all a child needs is to be held.

 

Funerals

While not all parents opt to take their children to funerals, it is important for young children attending a funeral to know what to expect. This episode sets the groundwork for parents. Like typical funerals, there is a coffin present and the community comes together to talk about Razorbill.

 

Talking about your loved one

People tend to avoid the topic of death to focus on happier things, and this may include excluding the deceased person’s name from conversations. However, talking about the person who has died can be part of the healing process. This discussion may bring up feelings of hurt or anger because the person is no longer there but also try to remember the happy times, just as Bull did, which will help this person live on in the hearts and minds of those who were left behind.

 

When to seek professional help

Everyone grieves differently but when does it cross the line to being something that you should worry about? A good rule of thumb is to decide if your child’s thoughts about death are affecting their daily functioning. If they feel overly anxious to the point that they cannot or do not want to do the things that they used to do, then it may be time to talk to your doctor about having your child talk to a trained professional that can help.

 

There will be happiness again

While the “Goodbye Seabird” episode of Lily’s Driftwood Bay focuses on a serious topic, it shows that remembering someone can be both happy and sad. When Lily sees her mum’s picture in the last scene, the image brings her joy and not sorrow and reminds us that we can all find happiness again.

 

*Dr. Natascha Crandall is a psychologist and educator with a special interest in enhancing children’s growth and development through research and the power of media. She is the founder of Crandall Consulting, LLC.

Natascha has extensive experience in curriculum development, script review, and formative research for leading shows including Lily’s Driftwood Bay, Zack & Quack and Bubble Guppies.