As a working mom in Omaha – or any parent for that matter – it is given us the task of discussing issues such as death with our children. For each of us, that time will come, hopefully later rather than sooner. But, it will come. Discussion with children on the issue of safety is also a necessary task for parents. In the wake of the recent school shooting, these two discussions have become intertwined. For the comfort of our children, it may be wise to prepare them for dealing with death. For the safety of our children, it may be wise to prepare them for a potentially unsafe situation. In the coming days, we will continue our series on issues such as talking to children about death and personal safety.
As discussed in the previous article, young children may need to be prepared for the finality of death and the notion that their loved one will not be returning home. For older children, the same is needed, though for different purposes. Older children typically understand that a person who dies does not come home. They may have a basic understanding of the finality of death, yet often media influences may color this perspective to a somewhat rosier shade. Children may struggle with the idea that injuries may result in death. They may be thinking that doctors are able to “fix” most things and that only serious illness will end in death. These children may fail to realize their own mortality or the possibility that certain actions of their own may endanger friends.
Thus, when speaking to older children, the goal is to frame the finality aspect as it applies to a broader range of occurrences. Older children and teens partake in car surfing and other dangerous activities, not realizing the potential danger. Further, they may vent frustration against others physically, just as in childhood though not realizing their own strength and ability to cause serious harm. A simple way to do this is to help the child/teen ‘walk a mile’ in someone else’s shoes.
Explain that even young people may pass out of this world. Fighting can cause sufficient injuries to endanger life, as can other dangerous activity. Depending on your child’s age and maturity level, you may find it helpful to relate certain stories as examples. This is a sketchy area. There is no definitive age by which one can assure this will not be frightening to a child.
Taking into consideration the individual child, parents must make this choice for themselves. When using basic, generalized stories, I would probably say somewhere between 11-13 years should be OK; again, depending on the child. For example, a parent may tell of a child who was injured falling from a vehicle and died, leaving out the details about what the injuries were.
Of course, if this does not appear effective, one must decide whether ‘the details’ may be necessary for the particular child. Ultimately, a good rule of thumb is to provide the minimum amount of information necessary for the child to understand.