‘He’s really interested in life and death’
— SKIP Whakatipu booklet Te Māhuri 2, page 5.
Personal experiences and beliefs about death
Discussions with the whānau about death and dying will all be very individual. It may be prompted by a particular event or concern, or just something that parents might want some help with.
Each whānau will have their own understandings and attitudes towards death, depending on their beliefs and experiences. This will be the same for their tamariki, and what has been shared with them or spoken about around them.
Adults will talk with their tamariki from their own basis of faith, culture and beliefs. The main thing is to keep the kōrero simple and honest — whether it’s about a death itself, or about the emotions of grief that come with it.
This can be a chance to talk to tamariki about how others might be feeling too:
‘People are feeling sad because [name] [name] has died. How do you think we might help them?’
The topic of heaven might come up. It can be confusing, as it’s quite an abstract idea for a young child. The idea of someone being physically dead but alive in a spiritual place can be difficult for a young child to understand.
But it’s really up to the whānau. If they have strong beliefs, they may have no problem in talking about heaven with their tamariki.
The death of a pet can be very emotional for its whānau. It might help the whānau, especially tamariki, to have some kind of farewell ritual so they can all say their goodbyes.
Pātai ki te whānau:
- Why do you think your tamaiti has been asking about death?
- What has their experience of death been before now?
- What do you think their understanding is about death?
- Have you talked with them about it? If so, what did you discuss?
- What do you think is important for them to know?
- How can you put things so they understand?
There are a number of children’s books that touch on the topic of death. As a support worker, you may be able to help the whānau choose an appropriate book for them. Try the local library.