Helping Children Cope with Death

How Children View Death

The untimely and violent death of a loved one, and the grieving that follows, is extremely difficult for anyone. It is difficult to accept that no one is immune from danger in the world, that we cannot control the irresponsible actions of others. We would like to tell our children that the world is fair and just, but it is not so. Instead we must try to find the best way to explain to children what has happened. Mourning a loved one is even more difficult for children compared to adults as they have not been exposed to a lot of death and often learn how to cope by watching adults. Young children view adults as powerful and wise beings who can do anything. Adult “truths” become permanently etched in their impressionable minds. Loving adults do not want children to hurt and may therefore disguise the truth about death. In an effort to protect children, adults may actually harm them. Many things influence children’s views on death. Age, religious beliefs, cultural or ethnic values, and their relationship to the deceased person are important factors that affect their understanding. However, the reactions of their caregivers are of primary importance in determining how children will cope with death. Telling children about the death of a loved one in a substance impaired driving crash is the beginning of a long process of sharing. Children, like adults, differ widely in their reactions to death. They are not, however, miniature adults. They have their own distinct ways of perceiving reality and viewing the world. Understanding how children conceptualize death within the context of their prospective age ranges may help parents and caregivers in coping with this process.

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