Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Explaining concept of 'death' to siblings

"...Children up to age three or four have no real concept of death. Their world is generally populated with cartoon figures that die and are immediately alive in the next feature, games of “bang bang, you’re dead,” which consist of falling down and getting up again, or fairy tales in which the poison apple causes a sleep of many years before the heroine wakes up.

You will have to answer many questions and repeat your explanations over and over as the child assimilates these profound concepts. Answer questions truthfully and use plain language that the child can understand. Children take literally what you say to them, so don’t use euphemisms such as, “He went to Heaven” or “God took her home with Him.” We as adults understand that perfectly; to a young child, it sounds like either the loved person just left without a goodbye, or that God is akin to a kidnapper, taking the loved person away. Understanding spiritual concepts will come later..."

"..Often, the surviving children become, for a time, the forgotten mourners. The focus of everyone is first on the parents—their agony, emptiness and sorrow. One teen whose brother was killed felt that after all he had read about parents’ pain, his own loss was of lesser significance. However, the loss of a sibling is in its way a greater loss yet. Siblings expect to have each other for a lifetime, those few people who have experienced the same parenting, family life and history as their own. In the case of two children, the remaining one must adjust to being an only child, something that may be a huge burden.
Try to include your children as you mourn. Allow them to ask questions and express their feelings, whatever those may be. There is no feeling that is right or wrong—our emotions are a confusing mixed bag, and none moreso than for siblings. There are inevitably squabbles, jealousy, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, anger and even relief that the surviving child or children are left to deal with, many things that you as a parent have not been a part of or had knowledge of. Reassure your child that such feelings are normal, and allow him or her to talk through them or perhaps write a letter to the deceased sibling expressing what they cannot say in person. If you feel you need further help or that your child would benefit from a support group.."

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