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  • Don't Stop At 'Nasa Heaven Na' When Explaining Death To Your Child: What You Can Say

    A psychologist and a preschool teacher share tips.
    by Jocelyn Valle .
Don't Stop At 'Nasa Heaven Na' When Explaining Death To Your Child: What You Can Say
PHOTO BY LightFieldStudios/iStock
  • The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has upended many Filipino traditions including how we observe All Souls’ Day. Cemeteries and columbariums nationwide are closed on Undas 2020, from October 29 to November 4, following government orders to avoid mass gatherings. It has been a ritual that provides a teaching opportunity: how to explain to a child about death.

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    More significantly, the global health crisis has made the grieving process difficult. The restrictions imposed on holding a wake and funeral while under community quarantine has affected how the bereaved parties manage with the loss and move on.   

    Dr. Ma. Christina Antonnette B. Baclit, LPT, MA Psy, DBM, told SmartParenting.com.ph in an email interview, “The effect of social distancing or physical distancing prevents one to visit memorable places, more so visit the departed loved ones. However, Filipinos are known to be resilient and adaptable, we can make ways and means to cope and adapt (in time).”

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    How to explain to a child about death   

    Parents, for instance, can help their kids by explaining the concept of death. The younger the children are, the psychologist pointed out, the simpler the explanation should be. She explained that at age 4, children may be told that those who die are going “somewhere else,” taking in consideration their religious beliefs.

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    She added, “Children may not necessarily understand the concept of the soul, but they can understand the concept of a ‘better place,’ after death. It is also advisable to let the children recognize and acknowledge their feelings and emotions about death or death of a loved one. This will facilitate further the recognizable expression of grief.”

    Be emotionally supportive

    Your children will try to express as grief over death of a loved one in many and different ways. Dr. Baclit says let them cry and speak about the loss, recall memories, and cherish memories of the loved one. Remember that emotions must not be suppressed.

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    Do not be afraid to show your child you are sad

    Parents may grieve with their children, especially when a grandparent dies. This is to acknowledge the fact that children are not alone in the moment of loneliness.

    Dr. Baclit adds allow your children to comfort you. These attempts to console may not be that of a grown-up, but it can make children feel they are helping their parents.

    Use age-appropriate language when speaking of death

    Preschool and special education (SPED) teacher Lyra Villaraza likewise encourages parents to talk to their kids about death using age-appropriate language or terms. Instead of saying the usual line, “Nasa heaven,” she suggests something like: “It’s a place where people go. We don’t really know what it looks like. It’s a place na pag nagpunta sila do’n, they don’t actually come back anymore.”

    Villaraza talks about death to her class of ages 2 to 4 age this way. “Pag sa lessons ko, I start with body, family, and community. Mula sa sarili mo, palabas. Pag sa very young age, umpisahan mo siya sa body. Kunwari, death means the body doesn’t work anymore.”

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    The longtime early and special education provider said that if the child asks, “Bakit closed ang eyes niya?,” the parent can say, “Because his/her eyes are not working anymore.”

    Villaraza elaborates, “So ’yon ang mas maiintindihan niya kasi gumagamit siya ng mata or kaya sa paghinga. Hindi na nakakahinga [‘yong namatay].”

    Villaraza provides more tips when explaining death to children, including those with special needs, especially if they had a close relationship with departed relative or household member.

    • Be honest and don’t sugarcoat matters about death.
    • Try to answer each question the child asks, though your answer need not be extensive and can be just matter-of-fact.
    • Help express the child’s sadness by crying. In case of anger, tell the child to count or sit in a corner.
    • Rather than dwelling in sadness, find an outlet for the child, like drawing and writing (for older kids).
    • Read children’s books on death to the child.

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    There is no easy way to explain to a child about death or how cope with the heartbreak of losing someone. As Dr. Baclit puts it, “Getting over a death of a loved one may seem impossible not only for the child but the adults as well. But what we can do is to live with memories, and life goes on.”

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