THIS CLIP IS CONSIDERED BY SOME TO BE A MASTER CLASS IN TALKING TO KIDS ABOUT DEATH.
I know, yuck! Death!? Why am I talking about the “D” word!? We don’t want to talk about it as adults and it’s way too heavy to address with kids, right?
When Sesame Street’s Mr. Hooper died unexpectedly in 1982, the show’s producers didn’t hide it or pretend he suddenly moved to Florida. Instead, they chose to confront it head on. And when you watch the clip you’ll see the profound power in that decision.
The Sesame Street crew was honest and clear: Mr. Hooper died and he wasn’t coming back. And according to Deborah Serani, Psy.D., that was the right approach. While many prefer using phrases like, passed away, lost, gone to heaven, or went to sleep, research shows that using realistic words helps the grieving process.
When our cat died recently, I figured my 2-year-old was too young to notice. But weeks later, the “Where’s Bijoux?” question kept popping up. I danced around it for a while (what’s age appropriate at age 2, after all?), but the lessons I learned in that Sesame Street episode popped into my head. I realized it was ok to tell my son the truth and so I did: “Bijoux got very, very, very sick. And Bijoux died.”
If my son was older, I would have accompanied this conversation with a helpful book, like this one by Fred Rogers. Or, maybe encouraged him to write a letter if he had any feelings he wanted to get out and express. Maria offers this FREE Love Letter Stationary which is perfect for this type of thing.
When it comes to talking about death with kids, Rosemarie Truglio, a developmental psychologist and senior vice president of education and research at Sesame Workshopsays euphemisms can confuse and even scare children.
“We put the dog to sleep. That’s a really big one,” Truglio says. She explains that kids can easily hear a mixed message, “If you’re telling me now that the dog went to sleep and is not going to wake up and died, well, I go to sleep every night. Am I going to die?”
Instead, she says to be straightforward and clear. Stating truths, and concrete information about death is actually helpful and less scary than sugar coating it with confusing words and phrases.
Though a loss may disrupt your life, keeping things organized and moving along the same (as much as possible) helps kids feel a sense of security. These great Family Organizational Printables help you do just that.
CELEBRATIONS OF LIFE ARE A GREAT WAYS TO KEEP MEMORIES ALIVE
To cope with the loss of Mr. Hooper, the adults in the Sesame Street episode tell Big Bird that they will always have their memories of Mr. Hooper. And the producers did that on purpose.
Letting loving memories stir good feelings that support us as we go on to enjoy life is an important step in the grieving process. Kids need to know they can remember their loved one and always cherish their memories together.
Here are some ideas:
- Write a letter or jot down favorite stories – print this FREE Love Letter download to get started
- Make a scrapbook of their life – let your kids cut and paste pictures and special memories
- Plant a tree or flower in your yard in their honor
- Read their favorite books
- Check out Maria as she talks about an online book she made to help her kids get to know their grandpa, who died before they were born
- Volunteer for their favorite cause
- Sing their favorite song
- Make a memorial ornament to hang on the Christmas tree
- Frame something they’ve written, like a poem or a recipe
(Skip the balloon release or lanterns, they’re not good for wildlife.)
And remember, grief is a process that happens over time. Every person (and child) is going to deal with it differently. Be sure to have ongoing conversations to keep the dialogue open and check in to see how your child is feeling and doing along the way.
What are some special ways you keep memories alive? Share with us in the comments below.
Meg Keys is an award-winning writer with nearly 20-years professional writing experience. She is fueled by her love of food, art and fluffy pets and lives in Metro Detroit with her husband and son. Find her at megkeys.com.