How to Prepare Your Child to Say Goodbye to a Loved One

There are times throughout our lives when someone is sick or aging and approaching the end of their life. While adults often have a difficult time processing their grief and saying goodbye, this can be even more difficult for children who may not understand sickness, age, and death yet. If your child is presented with an event where they may need to say goodbye to a loved one, here are some steps you can follow.

1. Have an Honest Conversation With Your Child

While it may seem like an easier choice to not tell your child what’s happening to spare their feelings, honesty can go a long way. It will help your child navigate these types of experiences as they move forward in their life and facilitate trust. Tell them what’s going on with your loved one and how they are nearing the end of their life. Use simple language and examples where you can to help them understand.

2. Give Them the Option to Say Goodbye

Some children may wish to see their loved ones and say goodbye before their passing. However, some children may wish to stay away. This is healthy and okay. For example, sometimes dying individuals look extremely ill and not like themselves. If your child chooses to not say goodbye in person, they could maintain the image of their loved one the last time they saw them healthy.

3. Share What They Should Expect to See

If your child does decide to say goodbye, prepare them for what to expect. Whether it’s in a nursing home or a hospital, explain what the setting is like. Talk about the tubes that may be helping their loved one breathe or eat. Talk about the nurses and doctors coming in to help them. And talk about what the person looks like. Also, share if they’re unable to speak or open their eyes.

4. Stay by Their Side

From the time they say goodbye to attending a funeral and afterward, it’s important to stay by your child’s side and offer them support. Depending on their age, understanding, and other factors, the level of support they ask for and need can vary, so just pay attention to their behavior and what they communicate to you. For some youth, grief and death can be very distressing and they may benefit from emotional support.

5. Discuss and Validate Their Emotions Afterward

Sit down with your child after and ask them how they’re feeling. They may have questions for you that you should take the time to answer. They may also be struggling to have closure. There are some activities you can do like have them draw a picture of the loved one, write them a final letter, list the things they loved about them, or make a memory jar to help bring them peace.

While loss can be extremely difficult, there are ways to help support your child through the experience. With the right patience and attention, you can get through the death of a loved one together.