Talking to your child about death

You need not worry excessively about what to say. According to one study, children just want to “hear the truth expressed in kind words.”


Death is often a sore subject and one that adults like to avoid talking about. But because it is inevitable, at some point we are going to have to talk to our children about it.

Sometimes their own curiosity may force us to broach the subject, like when your six-year-old child innocently asks if you’re going to die someday. What would your response be? Would you try to invent something in order to spare them any worry or would you tell them the truth in a way that they would understand? While most parents find it difficult to talk about death and dying with their children, the best way to go is by telling them the truth in a way they best comprehend.

In fact, children do think about death. Some even play games in which someone pretends to die. Therefore, death should not be considered a taboo subject, and you should welcome any questions your child may have about it. By occasionally talking openly about death, you help your child learn how to cope with the loss of a loved one.

Talking about death will not cause your child to have morbid thoughts. Rather, it will help him or her alleviate their fears. However, you may need to correct some misunderstandings. For example, some experts say that many children under the age of six do not view death as final. In their games, a child will be “dead” one moment and “alive” the next.

When they get a little older, however, children begin to grasp the seriousness of death—a fact that may cause them to have questions, concerns, or even fears, especially if a loved one has died. Therefore, it is vital that you discuss the subject. Several mental-health experts believe that a child will develop anxieties related to death if he or she feels that they are not allowed to talk about this subject at home.

Here are some tips to guide you when the subject pops up:

Take advantage of opportunities to talk about death: If your child sees a dead bird on the side of the road or if a beloved pet dies, use simple questions to encourage him to talk. For example, you could ask: “Does a dead animal suffer? Is it cold or hungry? How do you know that an animal or a person is dead?”

Do not hide the truth: When an acquaintance or a relative has died, avoid using confusing euphemisms such as “He has gone away.” Your child might wrongly conclude that the deceased will soon return home. Instead, use simple and direct words. For example, you might say: “When Grandma died, her body stopped working. We can’t talk to her, but we will never forget her.”

Reassure your child: He or she might think that their actions or thoughts caused someone’s death. Instead of just saying that they are not responsible for what happened, you could ask, “What makes you think that it is your fault?” Listen carefully, without belittling their feelings. Also, since a young child might think that death is contagious, assure them that it is not so.

Draw out your child: Talk freely about loved ones who have died, including relatives whom your child has never met. You might evoke fond memories of an aunt, an uncle, or a grandparent and relate amusing anecdotes. When you openly discuss such people, you help your child understand that they need not avoid talking or thinking about them. At the same time, do not force your child to talk. You can always broach the subject later, when you feel the time is right.

You need not worry excessively about what to say. According to one study, children just want to “hear the truth expressed in kind words.” Be assured that a child will usually not ask a question unless he or she is ready to hear the answer.

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