Children aged below six years are usually unable to interpret such situations but they will notice the changes in the family and catch sorrow whenever people around them are grieving.
Dr Alphonse Sebaganwa, a lecturer and researcher at University of Rwanda’s College of Education and an expert in human behaviour and child’s education reveals to IGIHE the best ways parents can talk death with their children.
He says parents should avoid lying to children about a loss of their loved one to death because the lies will have profound effects that can even last for a lifetime.
“All signs of the changes in the family’s situation because of the death of a member will affect the child therein and start thinking about what has happened, often making them feel unwell, cry, fail to sleep and display unusual behaviour,” says Dr Sebaganwa.
He says a child should be told the truth but in simple terms, then be showed special love and comforted in such times. He goes on saying that it should highly be avoided to cause confusion to a child which can make them keep wondering a lot about life.
“A child in such situations needs to be told the truth but focusing on comforting them like telling them that their loved one has died, they will not see them anymore but that you will always remember them. Never confuse a child saying that someone is asleep, has taken a long journey away, has gone to heaven, God has called them and more alike that can make a child wait for someone they will not see any more. When a child later discovers you lied to them, they may seriously hate you forever,” warns Dr Sebaganwa.
He urges parents to tell children earlier that a person is born, grows up and dies. If a child asks if they will also die, a parent should answer that a person usually dies when they are so aged and it is rare that a child dies but avoid making that conversation long.
How to show a child the dead body
Dr Sebaganwa says it is important to let a child see the deceased’s body to help them understand that they will not see the deceased anymore but that they will remember them in different ways.
After putting the body in the coffins, the caregiver should hold the child’s hand and tell them they are going to see the deceased person whom they will not see any more thereafter. Dr Sebaganwa says the child will be shown the deceased’s face only to avoid being frightened.
You need to reassure a child the remaining people will care for and love them as much as the deceased’s was doing and they must do as promised especially in the moments surrounding the death
During the funeral, the child must be held hand by a caregiver who keeps talking to them so that the child does not get frightened when the body is laid down the tomb because that is where the child will fully understand that the person will never be back.
A caregiver will thereafter stay closer to the child who may refuse to eat and even fear to sleep so that they do not die too. Remember to comfort the child and answer the questions they ask honestly because the child starts wondering much about human life and their own end of life.
Dr Sebaganwa insists parents and caregivers must tell a child the truth about misfortunes instead of lying to them whereby they may keep asking you about the deceased you said will be back.