Myths around children and young people experiencing death and dying
Myths that may keep children and young people isolated when someone dies.
Through my experiences of working with children and young people within bereavement, I come across many myths that may keep adults from talking about death through their own need to protect their children and because they may fear that frankly addressing death may cause further emotional harm. Parents or carers may also feel uncomfortable or unequipped to discuss death with their child. I would like to explore myths around children, young people and addressing death in the hope that it may provide reflection, reassurance and direction to parents and carers.
Death and dying although traumatic is a very normal process in life. Death touches everyone at some point. Children or young people who have or will experience the death or someone close to them may be especially vulnerable however, in my experience the adults around them attempt to reduce further stress by protecting the child or young person where they can for example; by excluding the child from funerals or conversations about death. The parent or carer may well feel that this is protecting the child or young person from further emotional distress but actually, this may have the opposite effect of isolating the child and leaving the child with lots of unanswered questions around death and dying which may actually increase the chance of future emotional difficulty.
No child is too young to grieve, even small babies can sense and miss a familar presence around them or sense the powerful emotions of others.
If a child or young person is old enough to love, then they are old enough to grieve, they just grieve differently to how adults grieve.
It is not easy to know what to do for the best when supporting children and young people through death and grief, especially when its very possbile that the wider family are also experiencing their own feelings of grief however, understanding a little bit more around common misconceptions may go some way to helping adults whom are experiencing this difficult process.
Here are some common misconceptions around the subject of handling death with regards to children and young people.
1. We need to protect children and young people from the reality of death
2. It is always best to avoid talking to children and young people about death
3. If they are told about an impending death, a child or young person will be consumed
4. If a child or young person does not talk about death then neither should we
5. Children and young people should not be at the bedside of a family member who is dying.