How and when do you tell your children about death?

Listen to your gut and do what is best for your family when considering discussing death with young children.
Listen to your gut and do what is best for your family when considering discussing death with young children. Wavebreakmedia Ltd

DEATH. How much do children need to know about it? Should we shelter them for as long as possible or bring them up with an understanding of how life works?

In recent weeks I had to face these questions and make some tough decisions.

My dad, my children's pa, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

After the initial shock and grief wore off, the reality set in.

Do I tell Miss Four and Master Five (almost six now) and if so what would I tell them? Do I wait until near the end or at the end or pre-warn to prepare them?

They love their pa immensely, but only get to see him a couple of times a year as he lives in another state.

This poses problems within itself at a time like this.

We set off on a quick trip to ensure the children got to spend time with him before he got too sick for them to visit.

Everyone I spoke to about it advised me not to tell the kids, saying they wouldn't understand.

I didn't really agree, but somehow in the fog I followed their words without meaning too.

But once the children could see their pa and the trouble he had walking and the thinness in his face, I had to say something.

Children are not stupid, and it was as though they could feel the elephant in the room and were frightened.

I decided to go with the obvious, rather than the whole story.

We discussed that pa was sick and he needed the cane to help him walk as his hip was sore.

It helped normalise what they could see, and it worked.

They felt included and comfortable in their surrounds, and were able to enjoy their time.

Once home, I did some research on talking to children about a family member dying.

Everything I found said tell them. Explain it, normalise it, help them go through the process of loss. It was time to do what as parents we should always do. I went with my gut.

Find the middle road out of all the information and opinions. Know your circumstances and your children better than anyone else and do what's right for your situation.

It was time to have a simple chat with Miss Four and a more in-depth one with Master Five.

We hugged, we cried and some of his questions were heartbreaking, but he knows.

He's a part of the process and he's allowed to feel however he wants about it.

And that is one of the most valuable lessons in grief and one that I hope will serve him well throughout life.

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