Handle them with sensitivity but with honesty

With the new coronavirus hitting the world, many families have been devastated by medical emergencies, the untimely death of loved ones. What started with a learning loss led to strained financial conditions and also, in many cases, the loss of parents, grandparents or loved ones for the children. Usually, when it comes to talking about death with children, adults don’t know how to start the conversation or how and what to say exactly.

Here’s how you can explain what happened. While explaining death to children, it is essential that they are treated with the utmost sensitivity but with honesty. It is important that an adult (with whom the child feels safe and comfortable interacting) talks to him in a quiet place. Conversations help create an open and nurturing environment that allows them to question and freely express their thoughts and feelings.

You can start by explaining what death is. For example, you might say, “When a person dies, their body stops functioning.” The heart stops beating and the body stops moving, eating and breathing.

Often young children may not realize that death is permanent and ask questions such as “when will Naani return?” and “I want to show dad what I’ve done”. Phrases such as “he has gone into a long sleep“, “your loss”, and “deceased” may sound sweeter, but can also confuse young children, who often think literally. They may think that if the parents are looking for the “lost” loved one, they might find them. Therefore, it is important to reaffirm the facts gently and reaffirm the death with utmost honesty.

Children go through waves of emotions when something like this happens in their lives. They feel anger, frustration, anxiety and build a story that it could have happened for some reason. Remind them that nothing they did caused the death or that nothing can reverse it.

Also, sometimes it’s natural for children to feel angry or disappointed about the family member who left them alone or the death of a close relative. In such a situation, allow the children to express themselves freely and make sure that this feeling is acceptable by saying something like “I know you are upset that mom is dead. Sometimes I feel like that too.

However, children may develop strong fears about their personal safety or the death of the surviving parent. And that’s when their fears need to be addressed and they need to know you’re there to take care of them. Grieving is a very complex emotion; it is not easy for children to manage. Sometimes children’s reactions can be harsh when dealing with the death of their parent or loved one. Children may have nightmares or scary thoughts. They may not want to talk about the deceased in any way, including happy memories. They may experience difficulty sleeping, concentrating and the like. If such feelings or behaviors occur to a degree that causes you concern, it is best to seek professional help.

It may not be possible to fully prepare for the emotions that may follow, but over time they may become more manageable. Remind your children that although change is difficult for everyone, you are there to help them get through this time. It is important that you give them all the information they need to avoid assumptions leading to confusion.

Maintaining certain routines can help children. It is important to keep the memories of the deceased alive for your children; after all, they still love the deceased.

Remember that grieving is a slow process that takes time. Although the feelings of loss never go away completely, they can become more bearable with each passing day. Give yourself and your children permission to feel happy again. Rest assured that the memory of your loved one will live on in the hearts of your family.

(The author is a journalist-turned-activist who works for women’s empowerment and child development.)

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