How to Talk to Kids about Death



How to Talk to Kids about Death
How to Talk to Kids about Death
Table of Contents
Developmental Stages of Understanding
How to Talk About Death to Young Children
Opportunities to Talk About Death
How to Prepare Your Children When Attending
6. Conclusion
Talking about death with your kids can be very
uncomfortable and many adults tend to avoid
discussing such matters. Nevertheless, death is
an inevitable part of life and it is in our hands to
ensure that our kids are well-informed about it
and to make them feel that death is normal and
that it is okay to talk about it. If we try to
communicate with our children deep enough, we
may even be surprised about how much our
children already know about death. They have
certainly seen dead animals, like dead insects
and birds, and may have already come across
dead animals on the road. Children read about
death in their fairy tales, watch it in cartoons and
even role-play death in school plays. With such
exposures, it can be considered that kids already
have an idea about death, but we need to know
whether do they truly understand it and how do
they deal with such issues.
Developmental Stages of
3 - 6 Years Old
Children at this stage mostly perceive death
as temporary and reversible. There are many
children stories that they may have read or
watched where characters come back to life
after dying. It is not surprising that children at
this age do not fully understand the realities of
death yet, and it is appropriate for their age level
to think this way.
We can notice most of the children’s
understanding of dying through playing with their
toys, letting the characters fight each other and
that the other one wins if the other one dies.
7 - 9 Years Old
Most children are beginning to see that all
living things eventually die and consider
death is final. However, they tend to not relate it
to themselves yet and consider the idea that
they can escape it or it doesn’t have to
necessarily happen to them.
They may
associate images with death as what they often
see in the television, such as a skeleton or
vampires in caskets.
Some children have
nightmares about them. You need to reassure
to them that death is not something to be
afraid of, that it is just a part of life and it is
10 Years Old Onwards
Children now begin to fully understand that
death is not temporary and they will die some
day as well. It is important to keep in mind
however that generally, children develop at
different rates and have different environments
and perception to what they see or experience.
They have their own personal ways of handling
and expressing emotions. You must gage your
children’s knowledge about death and
assess if their perception of death might
have an effect on their well-being. No matter
how children cope with death or express their
feelings, they need sensitive and non-judgmental
responses from adults. Listen to their thoughts
carefully and observe their actions.
How to Talk About Death
to Young Children
Many people feel challenged when discussing
death to young children. A good idea to explain
this would be the use of things that they see
in their normal surrounding. For instance, you
can explain death in an easier and lighter way by
saying that upon death, the normal life activities
will be absent already, breathing for humans,
barking for dogs or swimming for fishes, or
wilting of plants or flowers. A good opportunity to
discuss this would be when you see dead plants
around your garden or when passing on them
while walking on your way home. You can also
explain someone who dies in simple terms
for young children.
For example, when
someone dies they don't move anymore,
breathe, or eat, or feel hungry or cold, or you
won't be able to see them again.
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While the permanency of death is not yet
fully understood, a child may think that death
means separation. Separation from parents
and the loss of care involved are frightening. So
you need to take extra care in handling such
questions. In such cases, children need to be
reassured. Probably the best reassurance
statement would be “I will take care of you and I
will be here for you for as long as I can. But if I
die, I will not let you be alone.” Uplift your
child’s feelings by saying that there will still
be a lot of people who love him dearly and
will take care of him.
It is important to check which words you use
when discussing death with your kids. Some
children confuse death with sleep, particularly if
they hear adults refer to death as sleeping.
Some adults also tend to refer to death as going
away or leaving.
Resulting from this confusion, a child may be
scared of going to bed, believing that they might
not wake up either or not letting you go
somewhere without him, respectively.
Kids at a very young age may confuse about
death and being sick as well, if they were
given an answer that somebody died because
that person is sick. You need to clear this notion
to your kids and explain that only very critical
illnesses can cause death. You may also give
examples of these diseases in an informative
way, and be sure to avoid frightening them.
Telling them that the cause of death is an illness
and should be backed up with an explanation
that not all ailments cause death.
Associating death to old age can also be
challenging, as kids will definitely wonder when a
younger person dies.
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You should as well mention that death is not
exclusively associated to old age, but other
people can somehow be extremely sick or
something can happen to them so they died too.
Always end your conversations with a
reassurance that you guarantee that you will
take good care of your child and of yourself
so you won’t become sick and die early, instead
live a longer and happier life together.
It is important to help children understand
the realities of death, being the loss and the
grief. Trying to shield children from these
realities only denies them from the opportunity to
express their feelings and be comforted. You
need to share your feelings; both you and your
child, for this will greatly benefit your relationship
and improve their understanding regarding such
delicate matters.
Opportunities to Talk About Death
The death of other animals, plants or flowers
can also greatly astonish the kids and get
them more curious about death. In these
occasions, you can easily open the topic about
death and have a deep conversation about it
with your child. Questions with great details are
highly expected, but if in case your child isn’t
necessarily interested with the subject, you can
initiate the questions and control the flow of the
One of the most interesting and perhaps
effective reassurances to tell kids about
death is the concept that all living things
eventually die, but it makes room for new
things to join us on earth. You can use the
analogy that when they lose things such as their
loved pets, a new and healthier pet will be given
to them.
The death of celebrities or famous
personalities, which are reported on TV, may
as well be a good conversation starter to
your kids. Use these circumstances in opening
topics about death. However, there may be news
about deaths that happened in a brutal way, like
accidents or crimes. These will definitely stir up
fear to your children, so you need to assure
them that these events are highly unlikely to
happen to their loved ones and that they are
safe. Always keep it a habit to incorporate
love, care and reassurance with everything
they open up or share with you.
How to Prepare Your Children
When Attending Funerals
During funerals, it is important to ask your
child first whether he or she wants to attend.
If your child agrees to attend a funeral, you
must prepare them for what they might
witness or observe during the event. Discuss
with your child the anticipated atmosphere in the
funeral, and mention as early as before you
leave the house that in the event that you’re
about to go to, there will be people who are
crying and deeply upset. Children might hesitate
to go to the event and be afraid when you use
such sad descriptions, but you can encourage
your child that the sad people need comfort
and that you should go to show that you care
for them.
Have your child seated next to you or
someone they are close to and who is able to
cope with their questions and is prepared to
offer explanations. If your child prefers to not
attend the funeral, they must not be forced.
Be transparent to your children with showing
your emotion of sadness and despair. Do not
mask these feelings, as the children also need to
know and understand that these emotions are
just normal and there are moments in our lives
when sadness and grief really come.
A grieving child needs information that is clear,
comprehensible and appropriate to their
development level. No matter what their reaction
may be or however they perceive the lessons
you teach them about death, you need to instill
kindness and sympathy to your children
regarding such circumstances.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen
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Death is a very complicated and delicate issue to
explain to your children, but you need to be
patient in discussing such matters with them, be
strong, be compassionate and be the role model
that you want your children to look up to when
handling such sad circumstances.
No more yelling, no
more nagging, or
losing control.
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