Explaining death to young children

Clinical Psychologist Ivy Margulies, PsyD, shares advice on the best methods for explaining the concept of death to young children in order to help them understand it properly and not scare them
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Explaining death to young children

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The best way to talk about death with a child 6 and under is to use words that really are relatable, that they can understand, such as, “Their body was done living.” Maybe you’ve had a pet that died or you can go outside and there’s a dead bug or something and kind of give them an example of what that means. They still don’t really have a concept of death at this point. They think that person might come walking through the door at any moment. But if you can stay away from euphemisms with children that’s best, such as – we don’t want to say – “Grandma died peacefully in her sleep.” Because the child then will think, “Oh my gosh, if I go to sleep, am I going to die? If you go to sleep, are you going to die?” So really, you want to keep it to the facts, “The body was done living. They will not breathe, walk and talk like they used to.” And maybe creating a memory book with that child is a wonderful way to remember that person.

Clinical Psychologist Ivy Margulies, PsyD, shares advice on the best methods for explaining the concept of death to young children in order to help them understand it properly and not scare them

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Ivy Margulies, PsyD

Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Ivy Margulies is a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles specializing in maternal mental health, including postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, reproductive challenges, miscarriage, and newborn loss and grief. Ivy’s expertise also includes child and adolescent development and attachment parenting. Dr. Margulies enjoys working with parents on their parenting skills, knowledge, and improving the parent-child attachment relationship. Ivy’s clinical approach is to integrate psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness and bring awareness to the mind-body-spirit connection through meditation, visualization and breath work. 

In addition to Dr. Margulies’ clinical practice, she is a death midwife. What does this mean? Death midwifery is an ancient practice yet the term “death midwife” is relatively new.  Just as a birth midwife assists the family in the transition of bringing a new life into the world a death midwife assists and helps educate the family on processes associated with the transition of life into death, at any age. The work Ivy does is designed to create a sacred space for parents who have lost their newborn for reasons that are unknown and make no sense. Ivy comes to the hospital to help if needed and can help create a home funeral/memorial if desired. When there is a stillbirth or an infant dies in the hospital, often parents are not aware that they can take their baby home for three days and have a home memorial - they can take their time to say a final loving goodbye. The current culture in America is death phobic. We are typically scared to see, hold, and touch death. This is not natural. ‘We’ have lost all connectivity to the rituals around death and dying. Ivy is dedicated to improving the care and information families need in the hospital. You can see more information on her Angels Born Still page at www.drivymargulies.com.

Dr. Margulies is a member of the Los Angeles County Perinatal Mental Health Task Force working to reduce the stigma and shame around maternal mental health issues while raising awareness of the #1 complication of pregnancy and childbirth. 

Dr. Margulies is featured on the website, www.KidsInTheHouse.com, and recognized as a specialist in grief and postpartum. Ivy is also featured as an on-line psychology expert for www.ModernMom.com. Dr. Margulies offers her opinions and advice on myriad topics ranging from bullying, obesity, bed wetting, breast feeding, sleeping issues, sibling fighting, parenting challenges, etc. 

Her keynote speaking engagements have included the Los Angeles County Psychological Association Annual Conference, St. John’s Hospital Think Pink Event, The Annual Childhood Grief and Traumatic Loss Conference, The Pump Station, and many others.

Ivy has 20+ years experience working with families and children and has been associated with UCLA’s Child Study Center, UCLA’s Office for Students with Disabilities, St. John’s Hospital Child Study Center, and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Oncology. In addition, she has facilitated young widow groups for Our House bereavement center and has been the staff psychologist for the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine in Santa Monica. While at Akasha she created and facilitated groups focusing on pregnancy and motherhood, postpartum support, and an infant loss support group. She has also created and facilitated Mommy and Me groups at The Pump Station in Santa Monica.

She can be contacted at ivy@drivymargulies.com.

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