Interest in the topic of death and dying has increased dramatically over the past few decades. Researchers such as Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross have provided valuable insights that have reshaped our understanding of this subject. Nonetheless, movies, television programs and news coverage that dramatize and sensationalize terrorist acts, suicides and accidental deaths still influence much of how we view death. As a result, people who have not experienced the loss of relatives or friends do not have a realistic perspective of death and dying or the feelings they may experience. This is especially true for children.
Death is a subject most people choose to ignore, yet it is an integral and inevitable part of the life cycle. No organism lives forever. This is a basic and immutable law of nature. Human beings are especially vulnerable to experience death and dying. Not only are we all destined to expire, but death will also take its toll on the people around us.
Teaching children about the subject of death should not be avoided; rather, children should be helped to understand the many aspects of this potentially painful and disturbing event. Children with this information are better prepared to cope with the various ceremonies and emotions surrounding death.
Helping children to understand and cope with the reality of death, however, is not an easy task. When a child suffers a loss, many adults are unable to explain death or to help the child cope with grief. Furthermore, adults often are experiencing similar feelings to the child and are struggling with their own confused emotions, thoughts and reactions. As a result, adults are less able to provide the objective information and emotional support so desperately needed by the child.
Many children will experience death and dying long before reaching adulthood. The loss may be a relative, friend or even a pet. Children's grieving is similar to that of adults except that their grief is more likely to include intense and unexplained fears and anxieties.
Most experts agree that child SHOULD NOT be discouraged from grieving and asking questions about death; rather, it is important to deal with the child's questions honestly and directly. Studies show that children who actively participate in ceremonies at a time of death (including attending the funeral, private viewings of the body, even at-home care of the dying) are able to grieve and return to a normal living routine much easier than children excluded from such proceedings.