October 30, 2009 in Features

Don’t shelter kids from facts of life

Washington Post
 

Dear Carolyn: My husband and I had a discussion on mourning practices, in particular my mourning my sister, who has been dead for 12 years. He said that when we have children, he wouldn’t want me taking them to her gravesite because he does not believe children should be exposed to mourning or a depressing situation. I think it’s important for children to understand death at an early age. And I think it’s OK for them to accompany me to the cemetery.

How do we come to a compromise on something I think is so important?

My husband says it’s hard to discuss it with me since the topic is so close to my heart. The conversation came up because the anniversary of her death falls on a holiday, which makes the usually joyous holiday a very depressing time for me. – Disagreements on Mourning

Information can scare children, sure, but so can the absence of it.

And as soon as kids can form them, they’ll start asking questions.

Answering children’s questions with simple truths allows them to learn big concepts in small bits, which they can process at their own pace: “All living things stop working after a while,” “it’s sad, but it’s also part of nature,” “most people live a very long time.” (“Lifetimes,” by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen, is a good primer for parent and child.)

The questions themselves – which reflect where kids are developmentally – set that pace.

Factual answers to a child’s questions, meanwhile, sow trust, as kids learn to connect honest questions with honest (if judiciously abridged) answers.

When children see a parent cry at a gravesite, they don’t just witness grief. They also witness a parent managing grief, by remembering someone, expressing emotion, going home and carrying on with life. I doubt your husband means to protect them from profound lessons like that.

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