By: Kenneth J Doka, PhD
Throughout a time of loss, it is critical to keep communication with a child open. Only by doing so can we truly understand the ways that the child is experiencing grief, allay any fears the child may have, and support the child in his or her grief journey.
This means that we need to answer the child’s questions in clear and honest ways. Two rules can help us here. The first rule is to always understand the context of the question. Gee, that is an interesting question, what made you ask that? Such a question helps clarify the child’s concerns or fears. Then always answer in a way that is honest but also keeps the conversation going. A simple yes or no leaves little room for further discussion. For example suppose a child asks if you are going to die. A response like Most people live until they are old, even old enough to see you children or grand children – that’s why Mommy always buckles her seatbelt and stopped smoking so she could live, I hope, a long life, is both truthful and reassuring.
It is also helpful to be direct. The romantic stories we may weave and the euphemisms that we use might only frighten and confuse the child. It is best to give simple, honest, and direct answers appropriate to the child’s developmental level. If we do not have an answer, it is good to simply say so. I do not know why Grandma had to die. I miss her – what do you miss most about her?