How To Explain Death To A Child

Processing the death of a family member or loved one is never easy for anyone. However, losing someone at a young age is a particularly impressionable experience. As a parent or guardian, it’s important to know how to talk to the young ones in your life to help them through this difficult time. 

These five tips will help you guide your child through their grief journey.

How To Explain Death To A Child

Be Honest With Your Child

This is perhaps the most important thing to remember when first approaching the difficult subject of death. Honesty might be uncomfortable, but sugar-coating what has happened will not be of any help to your child. After all, they’ll find out the truth eventually. It’s important to use the word “death,” so that you can better explain what it means. For example, when describing what death means, you might say that the person who has died is no longer with us or that they will no longer be able to see them in person. It is important to be very gentle and sensitive when explaining death, but also to avoid white lies like “they’ve gone on a trip for a very long time.” While partially true, this will not allow your child to fully process their loss and might give them false hope that the person who is gone will physically return. Tell them the truth in small doses, and let them ask questions.

Answer Your Child’s Questions

Death is difficult to process for adults, so you can imagine there may be many questions about it from your child. Just like when sharing news of the death with your child, try your best to be honest with your answers. Answering questions like “where do we go when we die?” and “will I see them again?” can be answered depending on your religious beliefs. It’s also okay to say “I don’t know.” Sometimes we don’t have all of the answers, and that’s okay. Reassure your child about this uncertainty. Be patient as they come up with more questions, and do your best to answer them honestly. 

Reassure Your Child

Children can sometimes internalize bad news as something they caused to happen. When something negative happens, your child may believe it is because they are being punished. It is incredibly important to tell your child from the very start that the death of someone they knew was not in any way their fault. Explain that death is a natural part of life, and cannot be changed by angry words or misbehavior. Your child may be feeling afraid that death may come for them next. Offer them reassurance that death is not contagious or dangerous. It can be good to share that everyone dies, and that this is an incredibly natural event. You can add the caveat that most people die when they’re older, and that people do not die just because they knew someone else who died. Hopefully this can help to calm their nerves.

Share Your Own Personal Feelings With Your Child

Many parents think that it is their job to be as strong as possible during difficult times, but crying with your child can be a cathartic experience. If you’re having hard conversations about the loss of someone you love; it is only natural to have feelings about that. When you show your child that it’s okay to have emotions like sadness or a sense of loss, you are signaling to them that their feelings are natural and healthy. Sit with your child and let them express their emotions as you share yours as well. A common question children have is “will my sadness go away?” Let them know that the sadness they feel right now will ease with time, but the love they have for the deceased can always be there.

Remember The Departed With Your Child

Children are often worried that, after losing someone, they will forget about them. Sometimes this feeling is compounded with guilt as your child starts to feel better after the initial pain of loss. To help with these feelings, it can be important to talk about the memories you and your child shared with the loved one who has passed from the very beginning. You can share stories about who that person was and the joy they brought you or tales from your own childhood. Feel free to laugh and to cry. Celebrate the life lived while also being mindful to give your child the space they need to process these difficult emotions on their own. Remind your child that just because someone isn’t physically here doesn’t mean they aren’t still present in their hearts — that those we love can have their memories kept alive.

Death is never an easy thing to explain. We hope that these humble offerings may help to ease your burden as you begin the grieving process with your child. Remember also to be gentle with yourself — you’re likely to be doing the best you can.

We want to help you make the best decisions for you and your family to celebrate the memory of a life lived. If you have any questions about our cemetery, funeral home or cremation services, please contact us.


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