Be Simple, Clear and HonestOne thing you do not want to do is say anything you will later regret. Death is a substantial, traumatic experience children as young as two years old can possibly remember. And anyone from about four years old and up is sure to remember at least partially how you handled it. If you tell a child they moved away, or some other fantastic untruth they believe now, they will remember that ten years later and these are the revelations that cause teenagers to stop trusting you. One day they reflect on all the ‘harmless lies’ that were told to protect them. Be honest, tell them the painful truth, allow them to grieve and understand what happens. It may be harder, but good parenting is not about doing what is easiest.
Have Them Help OutHaving your child participate is very important in helping them fully realize the situation. Allow them to participate in some way. This will help them better manage an unfamiliar situation. It will also help bring a bit of positivity to their mind about an unpleasant situation. It does not have to be major. Maybe recite a poem or story. Even just holding a photo or presenting a picture. This will also elicit some praise from other attendees to help them feel better.
Listen and RespondAll children are different when it comes to situations like this. A key plan is to listen to their response. Some just move on, some cry, some become very curious. Monitor child behavior in the weeks following, especially if they do not say anything but begin to act out. This is a time to put your pride aside and maybe consider therapy or group meetings. It is entirely possible they want to talk, but just not to a parent. This is not anything against the parent, but for example, talking to you about death makes them think of your mortality, and it may just be too much to process. Be sure to carefully assess their reaction, both verbal and nonverbal and do your best to respond with love and care.
Don’t Hide ItThis can be one of the worst reactions. Hiding the conversation or the news of a loved one passing has no positive benefits. Conversing in secret breeds anxiety in a child. If you think they are not aware you are keeping something from them, while you may be right, you also may be wrong. If your child discovers you are keeping secrets, that teaches the child that secrets are ok, it also builds mistrust, and when you finally do come clean, you have already sowed seeds of doubt in their mind. Eventually, they will figure it out, there is no benefit at all to keeping it from them.
Help With Long Term HealingDeath is not something that goes away overnight. Children are incredibly resilient about things, including traumas like death. They have a way of processing and moving on. But just because a child may seem fine an hour later, it does not mean the situation is over. Thoughts will come back into their mind weeks or even months later. Expect random questions even a year later or more. As a child gets older, they may have a better understanding and want clarification to new revelations. After a week or two, talk to them and ask if they have any questions, chances are they have some and just did not think of it at the time.
Remember, children are little humans. Be the guiding voice of trust and love you wish you could have in times like this. Just because the child seems to move on easily does not mean there is no pain or confusion inside. The best you can do is just try your best to guide them as they deal with it in their own way.