“I had no idea how to talk to my children about a loved one’s death. Living through the past pandemic year, and being inundated with constant news about illness and death, has only made this feeling more urgent. I’m not alone.” K. C. Reilly, The Washington Post, August 14, 2021
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Excerpt: Talking to children about death, By Katie C. Reilly, The Washington Post, August 14, 2021
“When I was 16, my uncle diedunexpectedly — my first exposure to the death of a loved one. Upon hearing the news, my dad got on a plane and flew to the West Coast to be with my aunt and cousins. When he returned, there was no conversation beyond ‘Uncle Jimmy died.’
My mother died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, when I was in my late 20s and my father died of cancer four years later. Having never witnessed the grieving process up close before, I felt like something was wrong with me for the intensity of my grief on each parent’s death.
Now as a mother to two small girls, I want to speak to my children about their grandparents and also prepare them for my eventual passing. Living through the past pandemic year, and being inundated with constant news about illness and death, has only made this feeling more urgent. But like many parents, I have no idea about when or how to begin a conversation about death with a child. And apparently, I’m not alone, experts say.
Many parents — like my father — avoid speaking to their children about death because they want to protect their kids from sadness and pain, says Cara Mearns-Thompson, a licensed clinical social worker focused on grieving children and the co-founder of the Grief Club of Minnesota.
But there’s more than concern for their children that holds many parents back, says Vicki Jay, chief executive of the National Alliance for Children’s Grief. ‘It’s our own uncomfortableness with [the topic] that prevents us from opening up the discussion,’ she says…‘It is important to know that kids grieve differently than adults. And oftentimes, what may appear to be a frivolous play activity for children may actually be a very worthy way that they are working through grief,’ says Linda Goldman, a therapist in Maryland whose work focuses on children and grief…’Society doesn’t realize just how harmful some popular cliches can be to the grieving process,’ Goldman says.
Mearns-Thompson notes that saying someone has ‘passed away”’or that the person is ‘sleeping’ makes it hard for children to understand what has happened (and, others say, may create real uncertainty or even anxiety about what can happen when someone goes to sleep.)
When a parent loses a loved one, they also have an opportunity to teach their children how to grieve in a healthy way by modeling. The best thing you can do for your kids . . . is model to them what a healthy grief experience is…So it is okay to cry in front of your kids.”
How To Talk to Kids About Death: “Discussing death with your kids can be a real concern and many tend to avoid it. Death is however an inevitable part of life and it is our responsibility to ensure our kids are aware of it and know it’s okay to discuss it.” Child Development Institute
Little Parachutes – Picture Books about death and bereavement
“Books which tackle the difficult subjects of death, bereavement and loss. Grieving children may find comfort or answers to challenging questions in the pages of these books… The death of a grandparent, for example, may raise different questions than the death of a younger person. A sudden and unexpected death may evoke different responses in a child than a bereavement that has come from a longer illness. We have provided lots of books in this section to help you find one that works for your child and situation.” Little Parachutes
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 60 minutes.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Examine the titles of the post and of the actual article. Examine any photos, then create a list of words and ideas that you and your group members think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Try to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. You use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- When I was 16, my uncle died unexpectedly.
- I had never witnessed the grieving process up close before.
- Many parents — like my father — avoid speaking to their children about death.
- Constant news about illness and death this past year has only made this feeling more urgent.
- Parents feel concern for their children.
- It is never too early to speak to children about death, but in an age-appropriate manner.
- Society doesn’t realize just how harmful some popular cliches can be to the grieving process.
- It can be heart-wrenching to tell kids a loved one is never coming back.
- Being honest with children also helps to establish trust, experts say.
- Young people have this vivid imagination.
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- Parents can’t protect children from seeing or hearing about death.
- It is never two early to speak to children about death.
- Death is a normal and natural part of our life.
- Children’s grief will also vary depending on their developmental stage.
- They will understand death in new and different ways.
- It is important too know that kids grieve differently than adults.
- When speaking two children about death, it’s important for parents to use clear terminology.
- Using the word death is appropriate.
- Telling them simple, and honest information is the best approach.
Reading Comprehension Identify The Speakers
Directions: Read the following quotes from the speakers in the article then identify the speakers.
- “Many parents — like my father — avoid speaking to their children about death because they want to protect their kids from sadness and pain.”
- “…there’s more than concern for their children that holds many parents back. It’s our own uncomfortableness with [the topic] that prevents us from opening up the discussion.”
- “Children’s grief will also vary depending on their developmental stage.”
- “It is important to know that kids grieve differently than adults. And oftentimes, what may appear to be a frivolous play activity for children may actually be a very worthy way that they are working through grief.”
- “Sometimes “my [younger] daughter will say to me, ‘Is Daddy ever coming back?’ And as heart-wrenching as it is to tell her “no, Daddy isn’t coming back.”
Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing
Directions: Have students discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards, students share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.
- Have you had to speak to young children about the death of a loved one (your kids, young siblings, cousins etc.) since covid-19? At any other time? If so, please describe your experience.
- What is the reason many parents (or care givers) avoid speaking to their children about death?
- How do most adults feel about the topic of death?
- According to a recent study how many children have lost a parent or caregiver to covid-19?
- When is the right time to begin speaking to children about death?
- Why will children’s grief vary?
- How do children grieve differently than adults?
- How did therapist Linda Goldman help a little boy who lost his mom?
- When speaking to children about death what is the best terminology to use?