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Death and Dying: Talking to Kids about…

We recently heard about two tragedies in our Conejo Valley educational community:

  • An Oak Park elementary teacher’s husband committed suicide. He had 2 small kids. He was a local photographer who was there as many of the children became B’nai Mitzvah.
  • A Medea Creek Middle School 8th grader, Cody Badalato, died on Sunday after being in a coma for a week. Last Friday night, Cody was having difficulty breathing and after his parents called 911, suffered cardiac arrest. He was airlifted to UCLA, where he was diagnosed with leukemia lymphoma, which caused a large mass in his chest. This condition was unknown to anyone until the emergency. Up to that point he was a healthy 13 year old boy. Cody’s 14th birthday was this past Saturday.

Understandably, students, parents, teachers and the whole community might be feeling a jumble of intense emotions. (Read the complete eLearning with Rabbi Kipnes eNewsletter)

One of the most challenging tasks confronting us all is how to explain death to a child. In the midst of one’s own grief or in the attempt to comfort another, a child’s need to know and understand is often overlooked. Or, adults decide that a child simply won’t comprehend what is happening. Or the tremendous upheaval in the normal routines of the household throws the child into a kind of chaos of unexpected events and uncertainty about his or her future. Yet psychologists tell us that children today, shaped by the constant barrage of death portrayed on television and in the movies, are far more aware of death and its consequences than many adults realize.

The decision about what to tell children will depend largely on the age of the child, her or his sensitivity to the subject, and the child’s relationship to the deceased. As with the “phases” of grief, much of the actual response of a child will depend a great deal on the relationship between the parent and child, and how the parent chooses to discuss the death itself.

In conjunction with the Or Ami Center for Jewish Parenting, we offer these resources to help guide those of you touched by these tragedies. Please forward these to your friends.

Resources for Helping Your Child Cope

Talking to Your Child about Death and Dying, including

* Informing the Child
* Should I Bring a Child to the Funeral?
* Deciphering what is on a Child’s Mind
* Guidance for Talking to Childen of Different Ages
* How to Comfort the Mourner
* What to Say and Not to SayWhen a Child Dies
* Prayers for When a Pet Dies

Facing a Suicide: Talking to Kids about It, including

* Five Initial Thoughts when Dealing with a Child after a Suicide
* Six Warning Signs of Suicide
* Seven Things to Do: When You Suspect Suicidal Feelings

Caring for the Mourners, including

* Writing Condolence Cards
* Supporting the Mourners

A Prayer for a Cure for Cancer

May you find the courage and fortitude to face the realities of life:
that some live and some die
that sometimes things just don’t make sense
that we can chose:
to hold those we love closer
and to count our blessings.

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