Catholic Activity: Teaching Children About Sickness and Death
Sickness and death can be difficult occurrences to explain to children. Here are some suggestions for cultivating a healthy attitude within your child toward these issues.
Sickness A child will come to look upon sickness exactly as the adults about him do. If they accept it as something that is a part of living — a time for patience for the sick, a time for charity for the well — the child, too, will form this wholesome attitude.
One of the best ways to condition your child's mind for the acceptance of illness is to have him pray regularly for the sick. Many children in this country daily invoke St. Prances Cabrini for the protection of the sick.
If a priest must be called for a patient, be careful to explain just what the priest will do, and why the candles, crucifix, and other things are used for the administration of the sacrament of Extreme Unction. The child should learn that the coming of a priest does not necessarily mean that death is at hand. The sacrament to be administered will strengthen both body and soul. The patient's recovery rests entirely with God. If he dies, he may go straight to heaven.
It may be more practical to give this explanation upon the serious illness of a friend, rather than when you are directly involved. In this way you will give a more objective instruction. Then, if the time comes for the sacrament to be administered in your own home, your child will be prepared and will not gain the wrong impression from any emotional display on your part that might result from the physical strain of caring for the person who is sick.
Death When a pet dies, your child may grieve for it. He may project this feeling of loss and ask, "Will I die some day? Will Mama and Daddy die?"
It is very important to teach him that the soul lives on in heaven when a person dies; that the dead are nearer to seeing God and His Blessed Mother, with all the saints, than we here on earth. Children are sensitive to the reactions of others. It is therefore essential that parents accept death as the time when the just shall be led to their heavenly home. The child who grasps this reality at an early age is fortunate; for instance, a four-year-old said of a neighbor's child who died, "She's lucky — she's with God." A five-year-old, on learning that her baby brother had died, exclaimed, "Mommy, let's send announcements that our baby's gone to heaven."
Children can suffer greatly at the thought of separation from their parents. They recognize in death, perhaps, the first threat to their security. This is the time when they will profit most from a close friendship with Jesus and Mary. A medal worn on a chain or bracelet or just pinned on the child's clothing will remind him that he is never alone, that Jesus and Mary will always protect him.
Activity Source: From Stroller to School, Parent-Educator Series 2, Leaflets 13-24, Three to Six Years by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, 1962