Adults have already learned that death is a natural part of life (we haven’t learned anything, we wouldn’t cry for example;) but children haven’t faced what the loss of no return means.
When children begin to realize this, it is usually at 6 years of age. Some of them even before.
Leo was a yorkie of those precious, golden and silver-haired yorkie types. He didn’t even bark at how good he was. Adriana started talking to him next door, taking care of her at all times.
When the nursery school began, Adriana arrived at the grandparents’ house and did not see Leo. He toured the pensive house, looking everywhere. He didn’t find it. She went to the terrace where Leo and she usually looked out the street.
Leo’s gone just like the cat to find her mother because she missed her, right? said Adriana to her grandmother.
And that’s all. 4 years old. Not a single tear. Absolute normality. Everything that the grandmother was not able to overcome, the little girl normalized it with astonishing naturalness. No made-up skies. No questions about whether he’s coming back. She assumed that she would never see his favorite dog again, as he was with his mother. Why could Leo been separated from his mother again? Impossible. It was all more than clear.
The most curious thing of all was the reaction of the adults around the girl. They seemed anxious to have to tell the story of what had happened with the puppy, not to offer an explanation to the girl (she was already more than clear about why Leo had “gone”), but by themselves, to find an explanation for the eternal question. Why?
CHARACTERISTICS OF GRIEF IN CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS.
The concept of death is abstract and complex and the way to approach it will depend on many factors: age, education, emotional aspects, religious beliefs, etc. Children are real sponges and if they are afraid of something, it is sure to be due to some bad teaching or “bad” explanation from adults. You can’t be afraid of something you don’t know what it is, because you don’t know if it hurts, burns, or tickles.
That is why it is so important to know how to transmit the “normality” of death as the last part of life. Psychologists recommend not to lie or detours to talk about death, but keep an eye on the convoluted stories, warns psychologist Vicente Prieto. The child has to understand that he or she will not see this relative again, because the idea of’ grandfather is in heaven’ or’ he or she is in a star’, if not explained correctly, can make the child believe that the grandfather is an astronaut or that he or she will come back.
It is a mistake to want to “distract children, rather than teach them how to manage and experience sadness,”because a child also needs to mourn a loss and needs support, understanding and affection, they explain.
“Above all, it is necessary to teach the child to manifest his emotions, depending on the age, through crying, drawing, the verbalizations he can make of the’ I miss my mother’ type,’ I miss my grandfather’… We must teach him that what he is feeling is sadness, and that this is normal, so that the youngest children learn to identify these emotions,”advises the psychologist Vicente Prieto.
It is normal for us to try to protect children, especially in the face of things that scare even us. And we fall into the error of thinking that by protecting them from death we will avoid their suffering. But it turns out to be the opposite, as we take them away from a fundamental event in their lives, from which they must learn. Sadness and pain are necessary. In fact, it may happen that if they grow up without exposure to suffering, they will be more prone to frustration and will not develop the skills necessary to cope with events that they are likely to face as adults.
To understand why it is necessary to feel sadness, pain and grief in order to learn, it is very good to watch the Disney movie “Inside Out”. The presence of sadness in our emotional baggage indicates that it must offer some evolutionary advantage; just as fear helps us flee danger, anger incites us to fight and disgust makes us reject things that could harm us.
Sadness provides meaning and value to what is happening to us as we grow up. We value the joy of happy moments and, above all, the life that can be gone.