Disney Channel star Cameron Boyce, who suffered from epilepsy, died at age 20 on Saturday after having a seizure in his sleep

By Diane J. Cho
July 10, 2019 02:25 PM
Cameron Boyce

With the heartbreaking news of actor Cameron Boyce‘s sudden death, some parents may be left wondering how to comfort their young kids after one of their role models dies.

PEOPLE spoke to Dr. Elizabeth Murray — a PEOPLE Health Squad member and pediatrician specializing in pediatric emergency medicine and child-health advocacy — about the most helpful, age-appropriate ways to talk about the young star’s death at home.

“First and foremost, dying from seizures in your sleep is incredibly rare,” Dr. Murray tells PEOPLE, referring to the 20-year-old star’s cause of death. “The concept of a younger person dying is startling to anybody because again, it’s not so common, but a child will often worry it could happen to them.”

Dr. Murray explains that different age groups will handle the actor’s untimely death differently. Older teenagers, who may have watched Boyce on TV when they were 9 or 10, may consider it a type of “nostalgic loss” and be able to talk through their feelings, whereas kids from ages 7 to 12 may understand that he died but not know how to process how they feel about it yet.

“School-aged children are definitely aware of the concept of death and that it’s final, but they’re also at an age when they’re starting to learn and trying to figure out their own emotions,” she says. “So for that age group specifically, checking in to see what their understanding of the situation is and what they’re thinking about it is really helpful.”

Cameron Boyce and his parents
Greg Doherty/Getty

RELATED: Disney Star Cameron Boyce’s Family Confirms He Had Epilepsy Which Led to His Fatal Seizure

When asked whether to approach a child first or wait for him or her to come to you, Dr. Murray says it depends on the child and his or her relationship with the person who died.

“In the case of a beloved celebrity, you need to get to them right away so that you have a little bit of control over how the information is being shared to make sure it’s being shared in a sensitive way,” she tells PEOPLE.

It’s also common for school-aged children to “personify death,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. They may imagine death as “the boogeyman” or a “ghost” and feel guilty about what happened, the organization says.

Cameron Boyce (L) and Adam Sandler
Image Group LA/Disney Channel via Getty Images

RELATED VIDEO: Disney Actor Cameron Boyce’s Parents Speak Out About His Tragic Death: “He Is Our Shooting Star”

Dr. Murray suggests reassuring your children so they know Boyce’s manner of death was extremely rare, and to remind them that they are loved and supported.

“You need to take what facts you know and say we don’t have all of the information behind his death because it’s personal to his family, but we do know that he had a medical problem that he was dealing with,” she says. “And despite everyone’s best efforts, this is what happened, but it doesn’t mean that every time you get sick you can die.”

“What happened to Cameron Boyce is still very rare and we all feel very sad, but we don’t anticipate or worry about the same thing happening to you or your siblings,” Dr. Murray explains.

After a discussion, keeping a routine and letting your child speak up when he or she is ready is a healthy way to help them through the grieving process.

From L to R: Dove Cameron, Cameron Boyce, Booboo Stewart and Sofia Arson in Descendants 3
David Bukach via Getty Images

RELATED: Cameron Boyce’s Dad Breaks Silence on His Death, Says He “Can’t Wake Up” from “This Nightmare”

“A lot of times, if a child is playing or doing a quiet activity, their minds can wander and that’s often a time where they might start reflecting and thinking of more questions,” Dr. Murray says. “I would keep their routine and periodically check in to ask if they have been thinking about what happened lately or want to talk about it more.”

School-age children don’t always process things as quickly as adults, so it’s also important to be mindful of their experience while taking care of yourself as well.

“As an adult, it can feel like a bigger tragedy when a young person passes away because they were just starting their life, so the news can hit us harder,” Dr. Murray explains. “So we need to make sure that we also take care of ourselves and process our own grief so we can be there for our children.”

“It’s important to model that type of behavior and to say it’s okay to grieve so they understand that yes, we loved that person and we can honor their memory.”

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