Talk about death to children

Founder of the "Choosing Hope" association, she is also a facilitator and trainer at the "Center François-Xavier Bagnoud". She published "Taming Absence" by Fayard Editions (1992).

Annick Ernoult

How to answer children's questions about death?

It is never easy to answer these questions because in a sense they bring us back to our own difficulty in evoking such a subject. However, children expect clear answers, and therefore require us to be clear to ourselves. There is also an all too common idea that we must protect the little ones from all that is heavy and sad. This is true for some problems that do not affect them, such as the difficulties of a couple. But this is not true with regard to death, because it is an existential question that they ask themselves and they need to talk about it.

So I think it's important to think about what you want to tell them, to talk to them in a simple way, and to do it from the questions you ask and not to develop a big talk about life. And the dead. And most importantly, we adults are entitled to tell children that we do not know how to answer certain questions and explain why But important messages must be passed: death is natural, everything is born and everything dies . We do not know when it arrives: do not only die elderly people but also young people. Finally, death does not touch only the bad guys.

When a child loses a loved one, how do you announce it to him?

Ideally, the people closest to the child should make this announcement. But that's not always possible. In this case, it is absolutely necessary that it is someone in whom the child has confidence.

One of the best ways to help the child is to speak to him with real words. Do not tell him dad left, or fell asleep. I have seen too many children who are then panicked at the mere thought of going to bed or waiting in vain for the disappeared person's return. To be dead is not to move, not to speak, not to breathe, not to laugh anymore ... This is what must be explained to children.

Finally, it is said that it is important to see the body. This is absolutely true from the moment it is done in good conditions. This should not be imposed on the child, and if he accepts it, he must be accompanied by an adult. A good thing is to suggest it to the child by proposing for example to bring a letter, a drawing, a flower. The child then participates, and this will have a very strong impact on the after, on the mourning. The same goes for funerals. It is important for the child to attend, but if he wishes and if he is well surrounded.

Helping a child affected by bereavement is very important, how to do it?

It is essential for the child to be able to tell, express everything he feels, ask questions and listen and answer his questions. Drawing, playing, stories, books are good tools to help him express his emotions. Because the child knows very well what he feels but it is important that he is asked.

A bereaved child is a child who must also be reassured: he needs to feel the love that we always have for him, the help that we will bring him. Especially when death touches siblings: this brother or this deceased sister (e) will take all the place, one speaks only of him or her, which is quite natural as the sorrow is immense. But the living child must be associated with this sorrow: it is better to be sad together than only everyone in his corner.

Finally, it is necessary to help the child to say goodbye, by returning why not on the tomb after the funeral, by depositing there a drawing or a letter. Because it is also his own story that he writes.

Some suggestions for books to help you:

To read with his children:

• "You will always be with us Calinou" by Micheline Motte and Frédéric Mansot (Ed Mame, 1993)

• "Someone you loved is dead" by Agnès Auschitzka (Bayard editions, 1996)

• "I miss you" by Paul Verrept (The School of Recreation, 1999)

To talk about death with his children:

• "Death, family life" by Marie-Hélène Encreve-Lambert (Bayard Editions, 1999)

Practical info:

François-Xavier Bagnoud Unit / Saint Simon Cross Foundation

125 rue d'Avron, 75020 Paris. Tel: 01 44 64 43 50

(www.fxb.org)

This association has a rich documentation center. You can obtain by mail or by mail (afxbacdi @ wanadoo.fr), a biblography according to a theme (suicide, death of a baby ...), or advice of readings according to the age.

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