Goodbye, Grandpa: An expert guide to talking to kids about death during Covid

edition.cnn.com
7 min read
fairly easy
My daughter's questions started after a family friend got sick with Covid-19.
"If people are sick, they can just give them medicine so they get better, right?" my daughter asked with the hopeful perspective of an 11-year-old. "They can just go to the hospital so the doctors and nurses can help them?"

The questions stemmed from a positive update my husband gave about his martial arts buddy, John R. Cruz, a first responder being treated at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey.

He's one of the lucky ones.

Not everyone is as fortunate. We've already surpassed 124,000 Covid-related deaths in the United States and nearly half a million dead worldwide.

For adults, these numbers are shocking. For children , they are unfathomable. Some can't even conceptualize the notion of a single death.

Even young kids are aware of the changes in the emotional states of adults and will notice the absence of regular caregivers, including grandparents.

So how do we talk to kids about death and dying during the coronavirus crisis? These are tough talks, no doubt about it. Here are six guiding principles, with sample prompts and scripts, to keep in mind.

Assess what's age-appropriate

While parents should always be honest about death, the information you divulge may differ in amount and depth depending on the developmental age of your child.

How do you know where your child falls? It's a best practice to follow your children's lead and answer their questions without volunteering additional details that may overwhelm them. If you don't know the answer, it's OK to admit it.

Children between the ages of 4 and 7 years old believe that death is temporary and reversible, punctuated by the fact that their favorite cartoon characters can meet their doom and then come back the next day for another episode.

Even after you explain that "all living things die" and "death is the end of life," it's normal for young children to ask, "When can that person can come back?" Be prepared to remind them, kindly and calmly, that "once a body stops working it can't be fixed" and "once someone dies, that person can't return."

Older children grow out of this "magical thinking" as they enter tweenhood, questioning the meaning of death during adolescence, while often seeing themselves as invulnerable to it. They may want to talk with you about why someone has died and need guidance about which resources they can trust for valid information about coronavirus and Covid-related deaths.

Ask your children, whatever their age: "What have you heard about the coronavirus and how someone might get it? What do you know about what happens when someone gets sick from it?" Clarify the difference between the virus and the disease and explain who is at the highest risk for becoming severely ill from Covid-19.

Prepare yourself

A conversation about death, especially when you are reporting on a family member or close friend, is especially difficult. You don't want to just blurt out the news without carefully considering your words. Give yourself some time to gather your thoughts and take a couple of deep breaths.

Ask yourself: Do I want another supportive adult with me while I deliver this news? Where in my home would be best to discuss this with my child? Should my child have a special toy or comforting blanket with him or her when we have this conversation?

Even though it's best to discuss what happened with your child before someone else tells them, taking a few minutes to calm yourself down and be present is important for you and for them.

Explain what happened

If someone in your children's world does pass away from Covid-19, be sure to tell them honestly, kindly, clearly and simply. Experts agree that parents should avoid euphemisms such as "went to sleep," "we lost her" or "went to a better place" to avoid confusion.

Instead, you might say; "Sweetheart, remember Grandpa got very sick and has been in the hospital for the last few weeks? His lungs stopped working and couldn't help Grandpa breathe anymore. The nurses and doctors worked so…
Robyn Silverman, CNN
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