When a loved one passes away, we deal with our grief in our own individual way, but for children, it can be a hard concept for them to understand. If your child has special needs, you may be struggling to figure out how to even broach the subject, let alone tell them that they will no longer be able to see their loved one. Talking about death is hard, but these tips will help you through the process.

Don’t Avoid It

We avoid talking about death for various reasons. You might worry that you won’t have the right answers. Perhaps you are avoiding the subject by bottling up your feelings and emotions in the hopes that it will go away, but children, regardless of their physical or mental capabilities, can sense when something is wrong. Your body language and the emotions present on your face give everything away.

You might be surprised by how much your child has already experienced death, even if it isn’t as traumatic as the passing of a loved one. Children see dead bugs and insects, they read about death in books and see it in cartoons. While they might not fully comprehend it, they’ve been exposed to it. Avoiding it won’t make it go away, so why not use this unfortunate opportunity to have a chat.

Prepare if Possible

When it comes to talking with your child about the death of a loved one, if you have an idea that the passing will happen soon, let your child know so that it doesn’t come as a complete shock. Unfortunately, some deaths happen unexpectedly, so take some time, or even a day, to collect yourself before talking to your child. Perhaps you need to talk with a therapist, counselor, or pastor to come to terms with the death before broaching the subject with your child when your emotions are raw and unpredictable.

Once you’ve taken a moment to get your bearing, it’s time to let your child know what has happened. It is best to avoid words such as “going to sleep” or “final rest,” as it is misleading and could lead your child to become fearful of bedtime. In the same regard, if your loved one passed away due to illness, explain to your child that only really bad illnesses can lead to death. Rather than focusing completely on the negative, encourage your child to celebrate their loved one’s life by drawing a picture or writing a story. If your child is nonverbal or low-functioning, help them collect pictures and items that they can associate with their loved one.

Think to the Future

The death of your loved one may lead you to contemplate your own death one day. Use this time to make plans for future care of your special needs child. Start by making sure you keep a detailed record of your child’s medical history, and upate it any time something changes. While you are writing things down, write out your child’s routine and update it yearly as your child ages or his or her needs change. Their caregiver may know the basics, but they may be completely unaware that your child has to have two nightlights to go to sleep at night or that they have a tendency to wander.

Speaking of caregivers, there is never a wrong time to start the search for one. The best caregiver will be one that not only knows your child, but can handle the responsibilities and demands that come with having a special needs child or adult. While you are searching, make a list of the qualities you seek in a caregiver – you shouldn’t have to compromise when it comes to your child’s care, so if they don’t meet the criteria, it’s time to move on to the next candidate.

The death of a loved one is an emotional roller coaster, and at times you may be at a loss for words as to how to explain it to your child. Whatever you do, don’t keep the death from your child. Instead, explain it in terms they can understand, and use it as a platform to plan for your child’s well being in the event of your own passing.

AboutJenny Wise

Stay-at-home parent to 4 beautiful children, one of which is a special needs child. She and her husband made the decision to home-educate when their oldest was four years old.

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