Talking to children about death is very important. Yet, as parents it’s one of the most difficult conversations we’ll have with our children.
We’ve collected the thoughts of our psychologists and grief counselors to offer tips and resources on how to best approach this delicate subject.
Tips for Talking to Children About Death
When talking to children about death, use language and concepts appropriate for their age. Grasping the concept of death could be quite difficult for someone that’s very young or even older children who may not be ready for such a somber topic. We’ve included information about how to talk to children of every age in the resources below.
Take a Direct Approach
When you’re talking to children about death, tell the truth, don’t lie or skirt the reality of death. Don’t ever say that the person has gone to sleep. This may confuse your child, and give them mixed signals about sleeping. Your child will see adults emotionally upset and crying and it can cause the child to fear sleep, thinking that it will make their family members sad.
Ask and Answer Questions
When you are talking to children about death, ask them questions. Ask them if they understand the situation. Ask if they have any questions. You may be surprised what they do and don’t know. This will give you an opportunity to respond to what is foremost on their minds. Again, don’t make up stories, be as honest as possible and reassure them that death is a part of life.
Resources for Talking to Children About Death
We have found the following resources offer a wealth of information on talking to children about death:
Water Bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children, A Coloring Book by Doris Stickney and illustrated by Robin Henderson Nordstrom
Gentle Willow: A Story For Children About Dying by Joyce C. Mills and illustrated by Cary Pillo
The Next Place by Warren Hanson
The Fall Of Freddie The Leaf: A Story Of Life For All Ages by Leo Buscaglia, Ph.D
What’s Heaven by Maria Shriver and illustrated by Sandra Speidel
Kids Learn About Death And Celebrating Life by Billie Staton Humphrey
How to Talk to Your Preschooler About Death by Mary VanClay
Helping Your Child Deal with Death by D’Arcy Lyness, Ph. D.
Talking to Children about Death by Hospicenet.org
How to Help Your Child Grieve by Candy Arrington