The people of Newtown, Connecticut are in shock and grief, yet they must find ways to comfort their children. Talking with young children is a real challenge because they only understand simple words. How can you explain death? As someone with a BS in Early Childhood Education and a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, I have some suggestions. First, do not compare death to sleep, as some parents have done in the past. This can make your child afraid to go to sleep. Try to explain that death is forever. Rabbi Earl Grollman's book, "Talking About Death: A Dialogue Between Parent and Child," contains a read-along story for young children.
Personally, I would not tell a young child that God needed little angels in heaven. Even a young child is capable of thinking, "I don't want to be an angel. I want to be alive with my family."
Since young children do not have large vocabularies to explain their feelings, encourage them to draw pictures. Art therapist Marge Heegaard has written two helpful books for young children, "When Someone Very Special Dies" and "When Something Terrible Happens." Both are available from Amazon.
Read stories to children about loss and grief. Centering Corporation in Omaha, Nebraska specializes in grief resources and has picture books for children and workbooks for older kids. To order these grief resources visit their website, www.centering.org.
Encourage children to remember their loved one, friend or teacher in special ways, such as planting flowers, writing a story, or creating a memory book with words and photos.
Whatever you say to young children, keep it short and keep it consistent. Refrain from providing too much information. To avoid from breaking down yourself, you may wish to practice several sentences out loud. Tell your children it's okay to feel what they are feeling and that love lasts forever.