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How to talk to children about death and mourning after an accident

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28/01/2016

When unfortunately a member of the family dies or someone very close, doubts may arise about whether or not to tell the children or teenagers about it, how to do this and what it is better to say depending on the age. Because these situations are very difficult, especially if they are the result of an accident, the Spanish Directorate General of Traffic (DGT) has published a guide to advise adults on speaking about death and mourning entitled "Tell what happened". It is made perfectly clear that they have to be told: "Hiding, being afraid of, hushing up or giving untruthful answers or explanations for what goes on around us will only mean that the experience of death, apart from being extremely painful, may also become complicated or even pathological.

Children under two years old do not understand the concept of death but they do notice the absence. So what you should do is maintain their rhythms and timetables. From three to six years old. they don't fully understand and think it is a temporary situation, like going to sleep. So you should answer all their questions ("Where is he? Is he coming back?", for example) "sincerely and as specifically as possible". In case they ask if we're going to die as well, the answer is: "Yes, when we are very, very old". You should avoid saying things like ""Granddad has gone" or "He's fallen into a deep sleep" or "He's looking down from the sky", because they will take these statements literally, which will only make them more confused", the guide advises.

From the age of seven they begin to understand the reality and when they are nine or ten they now understand the meaning of death. At this age "they need to be told about the death of a loved one attending to the facts and the causes which brought it about". And when do you take them to the funeral? They can go from the age of 8, according to the experts.

In preadolescence, from ten to thirteen years, the message in the face of the death of a loved one is to be calm and, even though it is painful, you have to carry on. It's very helpful when adults explain their own experiences of mourning. For adolescents, "teenagers need to be encouraged to return to their lives and social relationships. It can be very helpful for them to spend time with their friends", they point out.

When they are mourning, the emotional process everyone experiences after the death of a loved one, and which can last from one to three years, children and teenagers need to feel accompanied and protected. You have to try and re-establish the daily routine, going to school and all other daily activities, as well as making it easy for them to express and show their feelings (in words, drawings...) and help them understand that it is perfectly natural.

In the DGT handbook you'll find much more information, although we sincerely hope you will not need it.


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