When Families Grieve is the Sesame Workshop program designed to help children after the death of a parent.
“Through DVDs, family activities, and books included in the kits, Elmo and his friends encourage children to open up about their feelings to help relieve the sadness, anxiety and confusion they often experience.”
This program is beneficial for both the child and the adults helping a child in grief. We can learn ways to talk to children about death from the scenarios with Elmo and his family.
Sesame Street has many online resources for parents and caregivers as well as tool kits, activities and crafts for kids.
Below are two examples of the practical advice they give to parents in the section titled “Grieving as a Family: Finding Comfort Together”:
Explaining What Happened
Your child may need concrete explanations of what death is. For example, in a gentle way, you might say, “When a person dies, his or her body stops working. The heart stops beating and the body stops moving, eating, and breathing.” Sometimes, young children may not understand that death is permanent and will ask questions like, “When is Daddy coming back?” or make statements like, “I am going to show Mommy my new picture.” Continue to be concrete in your explanation. Use words like “died” and “dead,” rather than “went to sleep,” “your loss,” or “passed away.” While these phrases may seem gentler, they may also be confusing. Since young children often think literally, they may assume, for instance, that if others look hard enough, a “lost” parent could be found.
For some help with explaining death to your child, watch the video Talking About Uncle Jack” and use the conversation between Elmo and his dad as a model.
Letting Emotions Out
Children may experience a wide range of feelings — anger, sadness, hopelessness, disappointment, confusion, loneliness, guilt, worry — but they may not always have the words to identify these emotions. Assure your child over and over that everyone, including yourself, has big feelings, and there are no feelings too big — or too little — to talk about.
Watch Together:“Give Your Heart a Little Time”
Talk Together: What feelings did Elmo and Jesse express in the song?
These are very good, practical tips for anyone talking to a child about death. We always want to avoid euphemisms that can confuse the children about death. If you tell them grandpa is sleeping, they will eventually what to know why he hasn’t woken up. I encourage you to check the site out or stop by for the DVD and kit. You may find it useful for helping your children understand death and help them express and share their emotions.
This kit is available at Hansen-Spear or you can view it at Sesame Street online.