How Much Sleep Does A 1 Day Year Old Need When Someone Dies – How to Help Young Children Through Their Grief

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When Someone Dies – How to Help Young Children Through Their Grief

Over the years, I have never had to deal with death much in my childcare home. Grandparents died, but many lived far away, so the loss was not so profound for the children in my group, who were 6 months to 6 years old. Once a 3 year old gave me a dead bug. I didn’t really know what to say, I just said, “Maybe I’m sleeping.” The boy looked at me with only the seriousness a 3-year-old can muster and said, “No, Lynnie, he’s dead.” It was then that I realized that children know about death, but we have to help deal with this natural process.

My adult nephew, Chris, had Muscular Dystrophy and lived with me for many years. It has become a very important part of my children’s lives. He gave them rides in his wheelchair, read to them, played their music to dance to and slipped them candy when he wasn’t looking! Many of the parents said they chose my program in part because they liked the fact that their child had a relationship with a person with a disability. A mother told me that her family was at an amusement park one day and someone in a wheelchair walked by. Most children would run away from this man, but his child came up to him and said, “Hi! You have a wheelchair like my friend Chris”

Chris fell ill and died suddenly, in his sleep, on a Saturday morning. I called all the parents and told them that Chris had died. I closed my daycare on Monday so I could do the funeral. It was only then that I realized that I would have to help the children understand this death while I dealt with my own grief.

I reopened my daycare on Tuesday, even though many of my friends said I should take the week off because of the pain. I just felt it would help us to be together sooner. Tuesday morning, I sat in our playroom and told the kids that Chris is dead and he’s not coming back. So we go into Chris’s empty room, sit on the floor and talk about him some more. They kept asking where he was and I just said he died and didn’t come back but we can remember him in many ways. I played some of their favorite music and they danced. Together we read a few of the books he had read. I even gave her a few candies from her secret candy drawer! They sat on his bed and in his wheelchair. They were sitting in his empty wheelchair when he was in bed, but they never moved in it unless Chris moved with them. The moving wheelchair was an extension of Chris’ body. I thought about how to make the change seem real, so I started pushing them around the house in their chairs. They had never done that before, so it was a sign that things were different now. I also put some of his shirts and hats in the clothing area and put a picture of him among his pictures on our wall. I also read many picture books about death during that time. The older children dictated stories and drew pictures of Chris. Families were invited to Chris’ memorial gathering and children wrote messages to Chris, tied them to balloons and released them.

Younger children do not understand the loss; however, they did, however, I felt that something was different and that I regretted it. One day, a one-year-old who was not usually very cuddly, jumped into my lap and hugged me while I was sitting on the floor that Chris was missing. He seemed to know I needed that hug. A six-year-old boy said: “I don’t think we’ll see Chris here anymore. Who’s going to take his place?” as he noted how the loss will affect us all. My 3-year-old niece, Chris’s cousin and daughter, asked why I had tears in my eyes one day. I said I was sad and I missed Chris. She said, “Me too! I wish he would come back.” All I could say was “Me too!”

Here are some ideas to help you with this very emotional human experience.

o Be honest and use words like “died” not “went to sleep”. Children are very literal and may be afraid to sleep because they may also die. Answer their question honestly according to their age and developmental stage.

o Admit your hurt feelings. Let them know that pain is normal and that adults understand how they feel.

o Talk about the loved one to keep the memory alive for them. Put pictures, tell stories and look at photo albums. Love and memories never go away, nor should they.

o Try to keep routines as consistent as possible.

o Some children will regress during this time and care and understanding will help.

Children of different ages and stages understand death in different ways and need special considerations.

Two-year-old children. They don’t really have a concept of death, but they feel a deep loss at the death of a parent. They can feel feelings of pain in others and react to changes in routine and caregivers. Consistent routines and loving caregivers help ease anxiety.

From two to six years. Children between the ages of two and six do not understand that death is final. They think that death is something temporary or reversible. Many children of this age do not seem to be affected by the death of a loved one because they really believe that the person will return. They may feel that they did something to cause the death. It is important for parents to ask questions to determine the feelings of responsibility and to reassure the children that this is not true.

From six to nine years. By the age of six, most children begin to understand that death is final, even if it is not complete. They may see death as something that only happens to old people or other people. Children cannot accept the fact that death happens to everyone.

From nine to twelve years. Some children in this age group may also feel responsible for the death. Their understanding is growing and children in this age group can probably handle most information if given carefully.

Teenagers. When children reach adolescence, they probably understand death like an adult. Even if they understand this, they still need a lot of support from parents and loved ones.

Books for children and parents about death and dying

or The Dead Bird – Margaret Wise Brown

o The Fall of Freddie the Leaf. LeoBuscaglia

or Dwarf above and Dwarf below. Tomie de Paola

o My father died today. Joan Fassler

o The tenth good thing about Barney. Judith Viorst

or Lip Lap’s Wish. Jonathan London and Sylvia Long

o Badger’s parting gift. Susan Varley

o I love you forever. Robert Munsch

o I miss you: A first look at the death of Pat Thomas

o When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death (Dino Life Guides for Families) Laurie Krasny Brown, Marc Brown

or 35 Ways to Help a Grieving Child (Guide Series) from Dougy Center for Grieving Children

o Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities to Help Children Cope When a Special Person Dies by Janis Silverman

or Sad Isn’t Bad: A Good-Grief Guidebook for Kids Dealing With Loss (Elf-Help Books for Kids) by Michaelene Mundy

o What the hell do you do when someone dies? by Trevor Romain

or After Charlotte’s Mom Died (Hardcover) by Cornelia Spelman, Judith Friedman

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