Loren Walsh, community connections facilitator for Jewish Community Services, aims to help parents talk to their kids about death and dying at a lecture on July 23 at JCS’ Owings Mills office. It’s a tough conversation for some parents, Walsh said, because many are afraid of saying the wrong thing.
Walsh spoke to the Baltimore Jewish Times about how to bring up the topic of death, the importance of honesty in talking about the subject and what parents should and should not do when discussing death with their children.
JT: What are the main points you hope parents will get from your lecture?
Walsh: It’s really important for parents to understand the importance of talking to their children about this topic before it happens, because that can set the stage for a response. … Be honest about what death is because it’s final. You shouldn’t really tell a child so-and-so is going away or so-and-so is going to sleep. For kids, understanding the concept of death is tough.
Is there a good age or time to start this conversation?
It can start as young as you want. Unfortunately, nowadays people experience loss at all different ages. Often, that usually starts with the loss of a pet. Talk to your kids casually. If you see a bug or bird on the ground that may have lost its life, start that discussion. … They can grasp the concept of death as they age.
What if a death happens when a child is very young?
It depends on what the loss is, who the loss is, if it’s a family member versus a childhood friend versus a neighbor. … Give them a choice to go to a funeral. Don’t use door slammers. Don’t say, ‘You’re too young to understand’ or ‘I know just how you feel.’ Give them the opportunity to say what they really feel and don’t shoot it down.
Is it OK to sugarcoat?
I would say no. When people sugarcoat things, it makes it harder for a child to understand as they grow. It really can be more painful in the long run. … The best is just to be honest with your kids about the process and what happens and what death really means, and put it on a developmental level for them. If the kids are really small, crouch down to their level.
What if the child asks about the afterlife?
It really depends on your observation and your belief system. So it’s really more of a personal preference. … The main focus should be we’re not going to see grandma anymore. … For young kids, it’s really hard for them to understand what they might be referencing.
Other than having this discussion, what can parents do to help their children cope with death?
I definitely suggest to parents they minimize the amount of disruptions a death can cause. Keeping a routine and the rituals they have as a family is important. To keep that structure will make them feel safe.
Parent Discussion Group Series
How to talk to your child about death and dying
July 23, 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Jewish Community Services
3506 Gwynnbrook Ave.
For more information, visit jcsbaltimore.org/events/697/parent-discussion-group-series