Why do grandmothers die
When Grandma Dies - How Do We Talk To Children About Death?
Dietmar Woermann, full-time youth leader
of the Christian Association of Young People (YMCA) in Betzdorf
Mr Wörmann, the question of how parents can deal with the subject of dying and death in a child-friendly manner is not an easy one. How can I introduce my child to the subject or prepare them for a death?
You have to be very careful with this experience. I would not confront children early unless there is a need. Usually, the family only takes up the topic when a death occurs or is foreseeable, for example with advancing age or illness of the grandparents. Then you should sensitize the children to the fact that one day, for example, the grandpa will no longer be there and that the time together is finite.
You are addressing the process of dying. How closely should you confront children with impressions that can be very painful and memorable?
In principle, one should not burden children unnecessarily, but bring the events as close as possible to their understanding. We cannot spare children from having to put up with the loss of their grandfather, but we can spare them from having to face physical pain. However, when making this decision, we should not only weigh up what we believe we can answer for, but also consider what the child wants. For example, if a grandfather is hospitalized in a nursing home for years, it can sometimes be normal for the granddaughter to be exposed to painful sights. Perhaps she would like to say goodbye in person and would suffer comparatively less from this situation.
Does that mean that children shouldn't be protected too much, but should also be given limited opportunities to participate?
Yes. This also applies to funerals, for example. It is important to make children understand the process and meaning of what is happening in advance. If a child then decides to take part in the last escort, I would not deny him this; but I would never ask a child to attend a funeral. Ultimately, you have to decide individually what is the best possible way of dealing with grief and coping with it in each individual case.
How do children react to an experience of death?
Initially mostly with childlike defiance, that is, with rebellion against death. Outrages such as “I don't want grandma to die!” Are typical reactions, as are concerns about their own well-being with questions such as “Who will pick me up from school when grandma is dead?”. It is also noticeable that children usually talk about the caregiver for a while in the present tense, or two weeks after the funeral they can ask when we are going to visit grandma again. Children question death less deeply than adults, but sometimes they need more time until their knowledge of the death event is firmly anchored. In addition, how familiar or close the relationship to the deceased was, of course, is decisive for the processing.
How can I help my child get over the loss of their beloved grandma?
It is important to be there for the child, even more than usual in a grief situation. Not only your child, but also you, the entire family, have to deal with the loss. Death means an incision, and this should also be recognizable as such. In the family you should not just go back to the usual everyday life, but rather take time and space to commemorate together, to be sad, angry, upset, or to cry. The common grief strengthens and supports not only your child, but also you. It can often be very comforting if you just hold your child in your arms and show that their sadness is justified and that you are sad too.
“And where is Grandma now?” Parents will surely have to give an answer to this question. How do you explain death to children?
Above all, children need positive, bright pictures. And we adults too, for sure. What is important is the idea that grandma is fine where she is now, that she is no longer in pain, for example, and that she is happy and satisfied. Even if it sounds simple, the image that grandma is in heaven and looking down from the clouds, invisible and yet present, has given consolation to many children's hearts. What matters is that you give an answer to this question and not how coherent or consistent your answer is. Children do not question the connections critically, but want to think of a nice and reassuring answer. And they need the certainty that their parents have a reliable overview of the situation and have it under control, but in no way need the impression that they are overwhelmed by death. Parents can and are allowed to show feelings and their sadness, but only to the extent that they do not express uncertainty or despair.
Do you have any specific advice we can offer children to help them cope with their grief?
Children help what adults also do well: The common remembrance, for example leafing through old photo albums, stories and anecdotes, “Do you remember how grandpa took you out to sea for the first time?”, Or visiting Grandfather's favorite place in the garden, the cooking of grandpa's legendary Sunday stew and much more. Reliving beautiful memories again makes death more bearable.
How can I tell that my child is successfully coping with the grief work?
We can take declining interest as an indication that the dispute is getting less or is over. For example, if a child no longer wants to go to the cemetery with them, but prefers to continue romping around in the playground, this is usually an indication that the topic is taking a back seat and that everyday life is getting a different focus. Conversely, significantly poorer school grades, social withdrawal or other abnormalities can be an indication that a child has not dealt with the experience of death sufficiently. Then professional help can sometimes be a sensible option; This is particularly advisable when children lose close reference persons such as father or mother.
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