The loss of a loved one is difficult and complex.
We experience a mixture of emotions, we don't all share the same
beliefs and it's not something we may prepare ourselves for. So how
do we explain death, funerals and loss to our children?
- Don't avoid talking about it. Provide as clear an explanation
as possible about the death of a loved one and find many
opportunities to talk about it. This might help your child avoid
misconceptions about the "missing person." For example, your child
might think the person they love is gone for other reasons, such as
that the person doesn't love them anymore.
- Use social stories to describe the viewing or funeral.
Ask your child's speech therapist or teacher to help
write a social story. You may want to draft a basic story to have
on hand so that you are not trying to pull one together during such
an emotionally trying time. The story should include significant
details, such as what the casket will look like, what the body will
look like and that people will be crying.
- Teach before loss occurs. An acquaintance's death might be a
good chance to talk about death before a child must encounter the
loss of someone very close to him. Let your child see your natural
emotional responses. If they are old enough and able to handle it,
consider having the child attend the wake or funeral.
- Look for everyday examples. Explain that death is part of the
natural cycle of life. You can use examples as simple as finding a
dead fly on your window sill, or the death of a famous person that
you read about in the newspaper.
- Death as a concrete term. Death is a complicated concept to
grasp, especially for people who have difficulty understanding
abstract ideas. Try to make the concept of death as concrete as
possible: death means the person can no longer breathe, walk
around, eat, etc.
- Avoid euphemisms. Using terms such as "going to sleep" or
"passing away" can be confusing for someone who interprets most
language literally. If your belief system includes Heaven, help
your child understand that Heaven is not a place that you can
simply drive to (like downtown Chicago). Otherwise, your child
might become frustrated that his loved one is simply in a different
place, but not communicating or visiting.
- Avoid protecting your child "too much." As parents, we
naturally want to shield our children from things we know make them
feel sad or that we believe are emotionally too difficult. If
possible, include them in the funeral process.
- Try to keep other aspects of life as consistent as possible.
Children with autism spectrum disorders can have significant
difficulty when their anticipated schedules change. As soon as
possible, try to have your child resume normal activities.
This can help decrease general anxiety, which can compound feelings