A girl from Belmont, MA died on the soccer field where she was playing on Saturday. She ran off the field and into her father's arms... where she collapsed. She never regained consciousness. Her name was Maeve. She was only six years old.
My heart goes out to her parents. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a child at such a young age, preexisting condition or not. The grief must be crushing but an adult has the emotional and intellectual capacity to deal with death. A six year old doesn't.
This morning all of Maeve's first grade classmates should be returning to school but instead I believe they'll be attending grief counseling. But how do you explain death to a six year old, an age group that experts believe is too young to understand the concept, or any age for that matter?
I know it's not very easy to explain death to any child, especially to those so young. My own daughter has, unfortunately, attended three separate funerals with me in just two and a half short years of life but I've escaped the really tough questions because she usually forgets them soon after she's asked. But there will come a day in my life, and yours if it hasn't happened already, when I'll have to try to explain what happens to our loved ones when they die. I am not looking forward to that day at all.
I'm no counselor, and I'm certainly not an expert, so I was wondering how I as a parent could find information on helping my child understand death. Thankfully there are resources easily found on the internet that can help. One site I found particularly helpful was the Hospice Foundation of America. Another web page that offered important information for helping kids deal with death was this one on the Kids Health website. There are many more sites out there, you just need to know how to use a web browser and you'll be inundated with information on helping explain death to children. Most offer the same tips, such as avoiding euphemisms like "gone to sleep" or "losing a loved one", because children around six years old think very literally and they might believe that their friend or relative has, in fact, gone to sleep and will wake up soon. Or worse, they themselves might be afraid to fall asleep because the child might be afraid they won't wake up.
Here's another website I found interesting - the page on PBS.org written after Fred Rogers died.
There are, of course, books you can purchase or check out at your local library as well. Like this one, for kids. Or this one, to help parents learn to teach their children about death.
Like I mentioned before, I'm no expert. I'm better at teaching people how to deal with the death of their dog or cat. And these links are just a few places to start. How do you handle the topic of death with your kids?