Death is difficult to explain even to a child without a special need. The emotional toll on all family members will make the loss even harder for your child. Those who typically offer support and try to explain what is happening can be at a loss themselves.
If the loss is expected, you will obviously have more time to prepare your child. It may not be appropriate for your child to visit the relative who is ill.
Talk with your child using family photos. Explain that you are sad. Incorporate your family's religious beliefs on a very basic level.
Sometimes a loss is sudden. The loss will be jarring to you, but it will be even more upsetting to a child who looks for consistency in her world. Again, use the basics of your religious beliefs. Also, be prepared to explain as situations come up that would have involved the loved one: daily activities, child care, visits, holidays, and birthdays.
The Visitation and Funeral
Consider whether or not your child is ready to attend the visitation and the funeral. Some children do not have the emotional or cognitive maturity to handle either situation.
Another child may be able to go to a private visitation where you can be more readily available to her and where she can have more time. The child may not be ready for a group situation of a funeral. Some children are able to attend both the visitation and the funeral.
A Healing Season
Expect that your child will need time to heal from her loss, just as you will. Allow extra time around the periods that she would have had contact with the loved one. If Aunt Sally normally babysat on Saturday afternoons while you bought groceries, expect that Saturdays will be especially difficult — for both of you.
Remember that your child may express her grief in a number of ways. She may be visibly sad or she may be able to express her feelings in words. She may, however, handle her frustration by acting out.