Teaching Children About Death and Dying – Interview with a Funeral Director of The Ira Kaufman Chapel about helping children cope with grief and loss.
Death and dying is a process that leaves many questions unanswered. Each individual will have their own unique grieving experience for each loss. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve and honor the loved ones we’ve lost. Teaching children about death and dying is a delicate subject that depends on the emotional maturity of the child.
Teaching Children About Death and Dying
Lisa LaGrou Oakland County Moms – Should we wait until a situation happens before talking about death?
David Techner – Funeral Director of The Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield MI – Look for a teachable moment. e.g. If a neighbor passes, let your child know you are going to the funeral and ask them if they have any questions. Don’t just bring it up out of the blue, but look for that moment.
Lisa LaGrou Oakland County Moms – If a child knows that a loved one is now in “hospice,” how do we explain to him/her what a hospice is?
David Techner – Funeral Director of The Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield MI – Answer the child with… We no longer focus on the cure. Our total focus is now comfort. We keep Grandma as comfortable as she can be for as long as she has to live. This is a very gentle way to explain that this is a battle that is not going to be won.
Lisa LaGrou Oakland County Moms – What age is appropriate to bring a child to a funeral?
David Techner – Funeral Director of The Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield MI – This is the most common question from parents. The answer is – there is no answer. If we’re talking about a 4 year old who’s lost a mother or father, it’s different than an 8 year old that lost a grandparent they see less frequently. It’s a lot more about relationship than it is about age. You need to dig deep, for example, if something is sudden vs. if someone has been in a nursing home for a while. Age is important, but relationship and circumstances have to be considered.
Lisa LaGrou Oakland County Moms – Is there an age that is too young for teaching children about death and dying?
David Techner – Funeral Director of The Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield MI – Probably in the 5-6 range, they can come to a funeral and can walk away if they have to. That age can be younger if it’s a parent’s death. I tell parents you can’t make a wrong decision here, you just need to make a decision. Once you’ve made a decision, you need to make that decision work.
Lisa LaGrou Oakland County Moms – If we decide to bring a child to the funeral home, what is the best way to prepare a child for the visitation?
David Techner – Funeral Director of The Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield MI – With regard to visitation, use the Holiday Inn slogan “the best surprise is no surprsie at all.” Don’t bring a child into this situation without telling them in advance what they are going to see. Tell them what they are going to see. Give specifics such as, “The body is not working.” “It will look like them, but they won’t be breathing.” Bring kids in beforehand for a tour of the funeral home. I can show them where the service is going to take place. I can show them a casket that the person will be buried in. When they leave, and if they choose to come to the service, they will have some familiarity of the process.
Another point I’d like to mention is that if you let them see – they will understand better. For example, letting a child see them lowering the casket into the ground will help them realize they won’t be able to see the body after the funeral. Talk to them. Have a plan and make sure your answers are consistent.
Originally posted 9/2010
Thanks to David Techner and Ira Kaufman Funeral Chapel for his advice for teaching children about death and dying.