Parenting 101: Discussing Death with Kids

Parenting 101

JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – The images all around us can be upsetting for adults, and especially scary for children. With COVID-19 cases reaching their peak over the past few weeks, parents may be fielding a lot of serious questions from their children. Death is a difficult topic to talk about, but child psychologists say even among families who have experienced previous loss, parents can provide kids with supports to help them during these difficult times.

Viridiana Revelez was incredibly close to her mother, Maria Elena Torres, often talking to her on the phone three times a day. Said Viridiana, “I would always tell her in Spanish, ‘Que Dios te dé muchos años más de vida.’ I’ll see you soon, I love you mom.” Last October, Torres was struck and killed by a car while crossing the street. Viridiana broke the news to her two young children that their grandmother was gone. She told them, “She’s a big angel now. She’s in our hearts and our memories.”

Child psychologist Julie Kaplow, PhD, studied how children age seven to 13 coped with loss. Kaplow found that about half of the kids who lost a caregiver grieved in adaptive ways. She said, “So those children who were better able to talk about and think about and share their feelings about the deceased person or even the circumstances of the death did much better than those kids who weren’t able to do that.”

Kaplow encourages parents to recognize their child’s feelings and label them. As she said, “Say things like I’m feeling really sad right now. I’m really missing grandma right now, how are you feeling?”

Kaplow also says during the pandemic, many of the normal social supports for grieving families aren’t available. She stated, “People are losing loved ones, not able to say goodbye, not able to go to the funeral.”

Kaplow suggests kids write a letter to their deceased loved one to express their feelings. Do an activity that they used to enjoy doing together to feel connected. And find ways to keep their memory alive. She also says it’s important that parents reassure grieving children that adults are taking steps to keep them healthy and safe.

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