Telling children about death vital
How do you tell a child about dying? Do you even speak about it at all?
These questions are at the centre of play specialist and family therapist on loss and grief Debbie Mills-Henry’s new book.
Debbie is also a youth worker at the Waihi Community Resource Centre.
She says there is not one way to talk about death, but it is important to let children know about death and dying.
“Tell the truth in ways children will understand by expressing themselves through creative activities,” Debbie says.
For over 25 years, Debbie has been working with families in the UK and New Zealand and across the Hauraki District to help them raise these difficult subjects.
One of her experiences led her to write a children’s book, The Birth of a Butterfly, to talk about dying in a way children would understand.
“I worked with a family where the dad was dying and I had to support the children throughout the process. I came up with the metaphorical image of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly to explain the process to them,” she says.
Debbie says children need to know the truth to help them grieving. She uses creative techniques such as drawing pictures of their loved ones, playing and puppetry to express children’s feelings.
Debbie says although the book is focused on children from five years and onwards, parents can benefit from it too.
“The book helps parents reflect and give guidance to start a conversation about it with their children.
“For children, there is no need to read it as a story, but instead they can look through — the pictures speak for themselves.”
Copies of the book, which she printed herself, are in Nga¯tea where she currently works and also in Waihi. Oceana Gold, Lithgow and Kennington Engineering all purchased 10 copies each.
Debbie has sold 100 copies and there are around 900 left. She wants to have not-for-profit organisations, schools and businesses sponsor more. The story has been edited by parents who have lost children, and children who have lost parents too.
“Everyone who will sponsor copies, I can add their or their organisation’s or company’s names on the first page,” she says.
Debbie says the book does not age over time as the topic remains relevant. I would love to see a world where we can stand up and talk about death just as freely as other topics,” she says.
The books are $15 each. Families can buy their own copies too.
■ To buy or sponsor copies, contact Debbie on 021 187 1855 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Play specialist in Nga¯tea and family therapist on loss and grief Debbie Mills-Henry.