In continuing with Dr. Webster’s guidelines about breaking bad news to children, last week I left off in the guideline about using age appropriate language and talked about children up to the age of 5 years old and what they may or may not comprehend.
Children from six to nine years old are able to comprehend that death is irreversible but they also think that it won’t happen to their family. Children in this age bracket see death as something that can be controlled and so if you don’t include them or keep it a secret, then kids this age may somehow feel that they are responsible. When you have to give bad news to kids in this age group, you might want to pair it with doing something that makes them feel better. Go for a walk, go for an ice cream cone or play a board game with them. Let them know that you’re still there for them. Don’t be surprised if your child tries to blame you or someone else for the bad news because he or she doesn’t understand yet that bad things happen to people and it’s nobody’s fault. Try to find a book for them about other kids going through the same kind of thing…kids feel better if they know they aren’t alone.
Children ages ten to eleven understand that death is permanent. Be patient with them; they each grieve in their own way…one day they can seem fine and the next day they will be a wreck. Stick with them, answer their questions and make sure they know that you are there for them. Sometimes kids in this age group can be emotionally volatile and it might feel easier not to say anything, but in the end it’s best to be honest. If you’re concerned that you aren’t getting much feedback from your child, reach out to other significant adults in your child’s life like a teacher or coach. Sometimes it’s easier for children to talk to another adult. Above all, when it comes to children: talk little and listen a lot!
Until next week,