Care of the Dying - Reaction of Children
A child's reaction to death depends on many factors. A child's first experience with death is often the death of a pet. A child under the age of eight cannot understand that death is irreversible and may expect the mother or father to bring the pet back to life. After the age of eight or nine, the child's understanding is usually as rational as an adult's understanding.
However, it may still be difficult for the child to understand that someone in the family is dying; neither is it important that the child should understand. What is important is that the child sees that the family is united and involved in caring for the sick relative. The child can then become part of the team and help in caring for the patient.
If the patient slips into a coma, or is confused by drugs or illness, it is wise to keep the child out of the sickroom. The child may be frightened to see the familiar and loved person in this state, and the child's presence does not help the patient.
When the patient is about to die, the family may decide to send the child away to a neighbor or relative. Although this sending away is well intentioned, the experience can be frightening for the child, who may feel that death Is going to involve another member of the family while he or she is away. The parents need to give the child a careful explanation about everything that will happen during his or her absence. Often, however, the child can stay at home and continue to feel part of the family.
The parents may decide to let the child see the dead relative. If the child does want to, someone should take him or her into the room and only stay long enough for the child to see how peaceful the person looks in death. If the child does not want to see the body, the family must respect that decision.
The parent may explain carefully and simply to the child what happens between the death of the relative and the funeral. A young child cannot understand a funeral or cremation service, so it is probably wise to leave the child with a close friend during the service. An older child may want to take part in this important family occasion.
Parents may be confused by the child's reaction to bereavement. The child may seem indifferent or aggressive or may seem grief-stricken or guilty. The parents must encourage the child to discuss his or her feelings. The child must be reassured that these feelings are not unusual, but that they become unreasonable if taken to extremes.
The child soon learns that the sadness is made easier by sharing the emotion with the family. As time passes, the grief becomes less acute, and the child gains a better understanding of the concept of death.
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