For a preschooler, dealing with the death of a loved one is a huge task. For them, they can only process death in small doses, and sometimes the real effects only materialise way down the line, often manifesting themselves in bad behaviour.
If you consider how adults often struggle to come to terms with the death of a loved one, it’s a small wonder why our youngsters feel the pain so bad and sometimes up to a year or so later these effects are felt.
In a preschooler’s mind, losing a loved one to death does not necessarily spell out losing them for eternity. On television cartoon characters die and resurrect themselves, in school plays a learner may die, only to jump up at the end of the play, and mommy and daddy will describe the deceased as having -gone to sleep , or -resting with the angels .
But for however long your preschooler believes the deceased is -away , this gap period can be faced with panic for his or her own needs.
Sarah and her homework
Just a year on from preschooler age my daughter would spend a night a week with my parents. My dad would fetch her from school, and while my mom prepared dinner for the three of them, my dad would help Sarah with her homework.
When my dad died very suddenly, my six-year-old’s main concern was who would help her with her homework on those Thursday evenings! She’s a young adult now, so we’ve all learnt to laugh about that time, even though back then, she was distraught.
The point of this is to explain that although preschoolers and this age group accept and acknowledge death on some level, they do not have the conception of the reality of death.
Although you want to shield your child from the pain of the situation, there are some situations where nothing, nothing but the truth will do. -Daddy has died and is never coming back to live with us on this earth . Your child deserves the truth so that he can process the details in his own way and in his own time. There are many excellent books from libraries that can also help your young one accept someone’s death. Choose a quiet time and read these books together. Let him express his feelings in a healthy way – perhaps he chooses to just go out and play with his friends, to draw pictures or he may need to be alone.
Seeing you grieve will help him
Don’t hide your grief from him. He needs to see that it’s acceptable to be upset and sad, and the last thing you should do is not talk about the deceased. Your youngster will benefit from seeing the family talk about the deceased, to laugh about the good times and cry about the sad times. Don’t stop this behaviour for him as he should be encouraged to join in.
Be prepared for your youngster to repeat questions time and time again as this is his was of affirming and understanding the death.
The questions he does ask need to be answered honestly, but minimally. Remember his understanding is not that of an adult’s. Answer each and every question as simply as you can. If, and when, he is ready to process more, he will ask for it, but you don’t want to bombard him with a suitcase of information is not ready for.
And lastly, encourage him to talk about his feelings and about the deceased. Perhaps it was his gramps with who he went fishing every weekend. He may want to tell you about his adventures with his gramps over and over again. This will be an exercise in patience for you as you will have no choice but to listen, to interact with him and enjoy his stories with him.