Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How Children Understand Death

                                                                Image by Nuchylee source
This year’s Fathers Day will forever be engraved in my memories because as a family, we celebrated it sending off a beloved uncle, my son’s grandfather. For a man who taught me, or almost did teach me how to ride a bike, because I freaked out when my leg was caught in the bicycle chain, I have lots of fond memories about him. He was like an age mate to me.  He was 10 years older than me, yet each time I spoke to him I could not feel this difference. His hard work and love for family touched me and I wish to carry it on. 

According to my Christian faith, I believe that one day we will be reunited again, in heaven. He has just gone ahead of us to a place we are all destined to go. Therefore, it is upon me to live a righteous life so that I can also make it there. However, for children, such beliefs may not make any sense to them depending on their age groups.

The fact is that children know something about death.  After all they see it on TV stations and act it out during play. Therefore, it is not new to them.  Faking stories about a departed loved one would only be doing more harm than good. It is therefore, important to be open and give all  age specific and simple answers about death to these groups.

1.    Pre-scholars

They think death is temporary and reversible.  You may have noticed if your child between the ages of one to five/six owns a water gun, he will shoot at you countless times and will even ask you to ‘die’. At this stage they are impersonal about death. I noticed the same thing with my six-year-old son, during my uncle’s funeral he would curl around my bereaved teenage cousin so he could rouse some play. The poor boy did not know it was not the right time to play. Even though I was open about what had happened and was going on, he was still distant.

2.    5 -9 years

This group believes that death is final for all living things. They may relate death with skeletons and even have nightmares. However, children in this age bracket can be reassured with the religious beliefs of the guardians or parents, such as mine, that one day both the dead and the living will be united in heaven. Healing for such children can only be achieved if parents are truly honest and communicate what they viewpoints on death. It is also important to let the children express themselves by mourning instead of letting them suppress the pain they feel.

Telling children that a beloved went to sleep may make them fear going to sleep for they may never wake up. Sometimes, answers such as your grandpa, grandma, dad, mum, auntie or uncle went far away or may never come back may invoke rejection. They may wonder whether the departed truly loved them if they are never coming back. Such children may also fear being left on their own. Children in this age group should be let to view the body of the departed only if they agree to it to prevent them from having nightmares.

3.    10 years to Adolescence

These lots understand death is irreversible and they could go about looking for the meaning of life in all the wrong places. Some teenagers get into drugs or become social misfits due to the loss of their loved ones. Therefore, family members should try to be as supportive as possible to this group by engaging in constant communication and by giving realistic directions in life.

Children understand death differently according to their ages. Therefore, parents, family, friends or guardians should never let children grieve alone. My auntie has a great task ahead with her children, but with the help of relatives and friends she will be fine. I pray to God she will be.

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