043: How to talk with children about death

The topic of today’s episode comes courtesy of my good friend Sarah, who fortunately hasn’t yet had any reason to use this knowledge, but asked me to do an episode on how to help children cope with illness, death, and grief, so she can be ready in case she ever needs it. Dr. Atle Dyregrov joins us from Bergen, Norway. He graduated as a psychologist in 1980 and worked for five years in the Pediatrics department at Haukeland University Hostpital, helping families whose children had died. He also co-founded the Center for Crisis Psychology and served as its general manager for 25 years; he is now its academic director. He has worked particularly extensively with children who have experienced loss and trauma, as well as at the sites of major accidents and disasters both in Norway and abroad, and has written numerous books, book chapters, and research articles on children’s response to death and crises. It turns out that this ended up being a very timely episode for me indeed: you'll hear in the show that my mum died when I was young.  Not even a week after I did this interview, my newly three-year-old daughter was playing with Legos in our living room when she asked - completely out of the blue - "Do you have a mama?"  Having done this interview I was well-prepared for a short but straightforward conversation, and was able to shift what would likely have been a very uncomfortable situation for me into something where I felt much more confident in explaining how people's bodies stop working when they die. Subscribers to my newsletter will recall that we spent last week in Missouri visiting the very same Sarah who requested the episode, and I had given her a summary of the content and told her about my daughter's question.  A couple of days later Sarah and my daughter found a dead bug on a playground and Sarah said "I think it's dead," and my daughter responded "Did it's body stop working?".  Sarah was taken aback...and amused...and was able to answer the question without losing her cool. Listen to this episode - we're all gonna need it at some point!   References Abdelnoor, A., & Hollins, S. (2004). The effect of childhood bereavement on secondary school performance. Educational Psychology in Practice 20(1), 43-54. Adams-Greenly, M., & & Moynihan, R.T. (1983). Helping the children of fatally ill parents. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 53(2), 219-229. Ayers, T.S., Wolchik, S.A., Sandler, I.N., Twohey, J.L., Weyer, J.L, Padgett-Jones, D., Weiss, L., Cole, E., & Kriege, G. (2013-2014). The family bereavement program: Description of a theory-based prevention program for parentally-bereaved children and adolescents. Omega 68(4), 293-314. Baker, J.E., Sedney, M.A., & Gross, E. (1992). Psychological tasks for bereaved children.  American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 62(1), 105-116. Berg. L., Rostila, M., & Hjern, A. (2016). Parental death during childhood and depression in young adults – a national cohort study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 57(9), 1092-1098. Berg, L., Rostila, M., Saarela, J., & Hjern, A. (2014). Parental death during childhood and subsequent school performance. Pediatrics 133, 682-689. Bugge, K.E., Darbyshire, P., Rokholt, E.G., Haugstvedt, K.T.S., & Helseth, S. (2014). Young children’s grief: Parents’ understanding and coping. Death Studies 38, 36-43. Corr, C.A., & Balk, D.E. (2010). Children’s encounters with death, bereavement, and coping. New York, NY: Springer. Dyregrov, A. (2008). Grief in children: A handbook for adults (2nd Ed.). London, U.K.: Jessica Kingsley. Engarhos, P. (2012). The young child’s understanding of death: Early conversations and experiences with parents and caregivers. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. McGill University. Montreal, Canada. Kristensen, P., Dyregrov, A., Dyregrov, K., & Heir, T. (2016). Media exposure and prolonged grief: A study of bereaved parents and siblings after the 2011 Utoya Island terror attack.

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