As part of this beautiful autumn season, comes the death of our sweet, furry pet, Puddle. Our guinea pigs Toot and Puddle are 4 years old now, which is a very long life for guinea pigs. As we celebrate the passing of the season, the death and dying of plants and leaves at harvest, how appropriate that Puddle was surely in the ‘autumn of his own life’.
Children will have many age appropriate questions and I’d like to offer you all the information that I will pass on to them. In class, we’ll discuss the children’s memories of Puddle and answer questions simply, with factual information. “Puddle didn’t get hurt. I found Puddle just dead on the weekend. He wasn’t breathing, or squeaking or eating. When I touched him, he didn’t move. We may never know why Puddle died, but he lived a long, good life for guinea pigs. Guinea pigs do not live long like people expect to live.” These are the phrases that I will be using with your children in class.
I will leave all of the religious aspects of death and dying for parents to offer as they feel the need. One of the most important quotes that I would like to leave with you is from Maria Trozzis book, Talking With Children About Loss, “As goes the parent, so goes the child.”
I will bury Puddle in my back yard and we can all look at this burial sight when the children come to my house on excursion this month. (Check the newsletter for dates) If you have any concerns or questions, please take time to chat with me and your child.
Too often adults think the child is incapable of understanding any part of death. It is important that we understand the developmental way children think.
Important Things to Know When Helping Children Understand Death
- Explaining Physical Death (death of a body) – the body stops walking, doesn’t eat, doesn’t have to poop anymore, doesn’t walk.
- Use the Correct Terminology – use the word “dead,” not “lost”
- Make sure the child knows the dead do not hurt.
- Make sure they know that death is: Irreversible — Permanent — Painless
- Let or encourage children to ask questions
- Have books about death
- Let children participate in ceremony / help set up ending practices
- Allow children to grieve in their own way
- Share feelings with the child – (don’t be afraid to cry)
- Provide support for the child
- Maintain the child’s daily routine
- Death can be a celebration
- Remember it is not the age but the relationship when determining whether a child attends a funeral
- Describe the person in a coffin as “looks dead, eyes closed, mouth closed, not looks peaceful.
- When asked ‘Are you going to die’ — answer honestly, “No, I do not expect to die for a long, long time.”
- Establish memories — “This is the first birthday since your father died.”
Children’s Understanding of Death
Stage One (ages 2 to 4): At this stage, children don’t believe death is final. It is temporary and reversible. They attempt to equate it with something they know (sleep, parents going on vacation). They are more interested in what death means right now (person is never coming back) rather than on how it happened.
Stage Two (ages 4 to 10): Children at this stage understand that everything that lives will die, although they may or may not apply this to themselves. They play imaginary games (ghost, superheroes, and role play) in an attempt to understand death and to deal with their fears.
Stage Three (ages 10 up): At this stage, children understand death is personal, inevitable, universal and final. They may have fears related to this understanding. At all ages, part of the fear of death is that they will be separated from their parents.
I cannot express enough, the need to read lovely stories about death and dying with your children, just like you read stories about animals, people, houses, etc. Include some of the following lovely stories between Go Dog Go and Green Eggs and Ham. Children will then have somewhere to ‘hook’ this information when death and dying becomes more personal in their own lives.
I give love and appreciation to the sweet memory of Puddle for allowing us the opportunity to approach this sensitive, lovely, life issue, TOGETHER, Mz. Lori