Festival a time to tell children about death

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 April, 2008, 12:00am

Parents should use the Ching Ming Festival to clarify their children's misconceptions about death, care workers said yesterday.

The Caritas Family Crisis Support Centre, an emergency safe house for people with family problems, presented its views after counselling 26 youngsters aged 16 and below from 22 families.

Children were acquainted with death once they became conscious of the world around them, Gary Ng Chi-lok, a care worker, said. Sometimes they displayed wisdom beyond their years. A seven-year-old girl named Ah Gum, whose real name was withheld to protect her identity, logically explained to care workers her alcoholic father's death in February.

The workers showed a video of Ah Gum, who stayed at the centre, describing her father's death from liver cancer after an unsuccessful battle with alcoholism. In Ah Gum's words, it was due to 'life choices we could not change'.

She invented methods to discuss the death, by speaking to her toys and telling herself her father was in heaven. But children might get confused as many learned about death from cartoons, Mr Ng said. They may think a dead loved one will return to life or blame themselves for the death.

Belinda Tan Wai-ping, also a care worker, said five- to six-year-olds misunderstood the concept of death, while older children worried about family finances and accidental death.

Paulina Kwok Chi-ying, the centre's supervisor, said the grieving period could last two weeks to one month, or even longer. She said parents should not avoid discussing death, even if no one in the family had died, using examples like animals and insects, and avoid explanations like 'he has gone to a faraway place'.

Parents should correct children who feel responsible for their family's welfare after a death.