Children can handle so much more than we give them credit for.
They are the sponges of the earth that soak up all of the information surrounding them.
They pick up cues from family, the television, other children and certainly from the internet (especially if they are little youtube addicts like most young children I know).
They will learn scary sounding words such as die, dead or death from an early age and when learning to use said words in a sentence, may be frowned upon and very quickly understand that the flippant use of these words just isn't socially acceptable for kids.
As parents we want to protect our young from experiencing anxiety, fear or worry as much as possible and this parenting mentality or behaviour is a norm for parents of our generation. Always looking out for our little ones and trying to give them a balanced childhood completely void from trauma. But can we really control that, or more to the point, should we?
This is where the credit comes in. Allowing our kids to trust us that when they ask the tough questions they will be answered honestly and age appropriately. We must start conversations early and plant the seeds so that we can build upon it when the time comes.
Thank you Disney by the way, for bringing us the Lion King.
Some of us may have used Mufasa's below death analogy to support the conversation about death or dying.
Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.
But dad, don't we eat the antelope?
Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so we are all connnected in the great Circle of Life.
Although practical and a good place to start, it didn't at all describe the intense and overwhelming feeling of grief those left behind experience.
Mufasa's death scene however, was mortifying for all and thankfully Simba went on to display the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance in the film.
We can't wrap our kids up in cotton wool and we shouldn't strive to give them a story book childhood, it needs to be real and it needs to have ups and downs because life IS up and down. And kids need to see their parents grieve and speak openly about their emotions and moreso, kids need to be given the space and time to express how they are feeling, not bottle their thoughts or fears, anger or frustrations.
I'm getting off topic, empathy. Thats where I was going. Children can learn empathy through grief, they can learn love, they can learn to communicate, they can learn to trust, we just need to give them the tools and trust that they can handle learning about a topic such as death. I keep saying age appropriately, because it is appropriate at any age to grieve when a loved one is lost.