Inform the child as soon as possible – A child should hear about the death from someone he or she trusts. This may be a parent, grandparent, older sibling, aunt or uncle, or close family friend. While it is natural to want to delay this unpleasant task, doing so puts the child at risk of hearing about the death from someone else – such as a TV report or stranger.
Choose a comfortable setting – The child should be in a familiar environment in which he or she feels safe and comfortable. For many, this excludes a hospital waiting room or stranger’s house. A loved one’s house or the child’s own home may provide the greatest sense of security. Use a calm and natural speaking voice when relaying the news.
Use honest, age-appropriate language – Be honest about the death and avoid unclear language. Terms like, “had to go away for awhile,” or “went to sleep,” can be confusing and scary for a child who may take your words at face value. Instead, provide an age-appropriate explanation of what happened and what it means to die. Phrases like, “his body stopped working and doctors could not do anything to make it work,” may be appropriate for young children. Avoid graphic or frightening details. Ensure the child won’t be in a position to overhear such talk amongst the grownups.
Encourage the child to ask questions – Most children are naturally curious and will have questions about the death and what happened to the deceased. Provide an open and inclusive environment in which such questions are heard and answered in age-appropriate terms. It’s okay to admit when you do not have the answers to a question. Reassure the child, however, that there is no such thing as a “bad question.”
Stress that there is no “wrong” or “right” way to feel – Every child is unique and each child will react in his or her own way to loss. Assure the child that it is normal to feel confused, scared, sad or angry. Let the child know he or she can share those emotions with you without getting in trouble or letting you down.
Stick to a routine as much as possible – Most children, but particularly young children, function best when kept to a familiar routine. This includes regular mealtimes, bedtimes and other activities, such as school.
Seek help from a family therapist – Children and teens may benefit from meeting with a grief counselor or other therapist. Select a professional who focuses specifically on helping children. Counseling may be especially helpful in cases where a child witnessed or experienced first-hand the traumatic event that led to the wrongful death.
You and your family have the right to seek legal assistance for the wrongful death of a loved one. Learn more about your options by calling Ryan, LLP at 877-864-9495 or fill out our online contact form. Our Cleveland-based attorneys offer free case evaluations and can discuss the circumstances of your particular case.