Many parents wonder if it’s appropriate for children to write sympathy notes. Should parents expose their children to death? And if so, at what age are children old enough to understand the complex feelings of sorrow and grief when a loved one dies?
These are tough questions to answer. From my perspective, it is never too early to learn compassion. Since so many adults struggle to write sympathy notes, wouldn’t it be beneficial to teach our children how to write them so as they age, they will be comfortable comforting the bereaved?
Children do experience death. It may be a pet, a friend’s loved one, or a family member. If a child expresses sadness and compassion over a death, I believe it’s appropriate to encourage them to express their thoughts and feelings in writing.
Years ago, I received a sympathy note from the seven-year-old daughter of a dear friend who wrote to share her sorrow on the death of my newborn son.
The note was both sweet and sad. She told me how sorry she was that my baby had died. And I remember clearly that right in the middle of her condolences, she added, “We had a snow storm on Wednesday and didn't have school so I went sledding.” And without missing a beat, she continued to tell me how much she would miss seeing and getting to know my son.
I smiled when I initially read the condolence note and decades later, just thinking about the note still makes me smile. Surely she hoped her message would comfort me; and it did. It made me feel good to know that this sweet girl cared enough to want to reach out and let me know how she felt. She had shared the excitement of my pregnancy and now she was experiencing the sorrow of my loss.
We learn lessons, no matter how old our teacher. This seven-year-old taught me that it doesn’t matter what your age, it’s always appropriate to share your sadness and concern when you learn a friend or loved one is bereaved. And it’s never too early to teach your child compassion.
Robbie Miller Kaplan is an author who writes from a unique perspective as a mother who has lost two children. She has written How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say, a guide to help readers communicate effectively when those they care about experience loss, now available in three individual volumes: "Illness & Death," "Suicide" and "Miscarriage." Additional titles are available as e-books: "Death of a Child," "Death of a Stillborn or Newborn Baby," "Pet Loss," "Caregiver Responsibilities," "Divorce" and "Job Loss." All titles are in Amazon's Kindle Store. Click here to order.
Image: Flickr Creative Commons/cwasteson