A Hard Conversation: Talking to Your Child About Death

By Amanda (Contributor)
Edited by Ali Reza

Talking about death can be difficult no matter your age. People tend to avoid subjects that make them or others upset. But death is a part of life and is inevitable. When a family member or friend dies, it can be a challenging situation to deal with, especially when children are involved. While it can be tempting to want to protect children from this pain, helping them through it can be much more effective in the long run.

Discussing death with your child can help them to gain a better understanding and acceptance of what is happening. Let their age and questions guide your conversation, making sure to explain things in a way that makes sense to them.

Be honest and keep things simple. You don’t have to go into a detailed discussion of what happened with a young child. Teenagers may want more explanation, but younger children are often content with the basics and that is all they are really ready to process. Although it can be difficult, use terms such as “died” rather than trying to make things sound more pleasant. Telling a child that their grandparent is sleeping, that they went away, or that you lost them can be very confusing. Children can be very literal and may not understand that the person is not waking up or coming back.

You could explain that they got very sick and their body stopped working, or that they were in an accident and got hurt but the doctor couldn’t fix them. Older children are often better able to understand certain diseases or conditions that may have led to someone’s death. Try to avoid too many details that could scare or upset them. Reassure them that if they get sick or injured, that does not mean that they are going to die.

Let their questions guide discussions. As an adult, you perceive things differently than a child. When they ask where their uncle went when he died, they may mean it very literally. Ask follow-up questions to get a better understanding of what they want to know. If you don’t have an answer, be honest and tell them you’re not sure or you’ll try to find out. Keep conversation open and encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings. Death should not be a taboo subject that they feel uncomfortable bringing up.

Allow grieving. Children are very observant. Even though you may try to hide your sadness, they can often sense when something is wrong. Don’t be embarrassed to cry in front of them and let them know that it is okay for them to cry too. Talk about being sad or mad and missing the person, but let them know that you are there for them. In time things will get easier. If your child seems to have an especially difficult time coping, consider seeking help from a therapist or counselor who can help them work through their emotions.

Talk about God and Afterlife. Death is a good reason to tell your children about purpose of Man’s creation and afterlife which can give  logical reasons why one has to die. It can eventually lead to belief in God and afterlife. Such belief can ease the pain of losing the loved one for your children and it can bring comfort that one who dies can be with a fair, almighty, loving and caring creator.


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