07 Feb Speaking to children about death
A lot of parents shudder at the thought of having to explain the death of a loved one to their children. I often find myself providing counsel on this conversation. There are some general guidelines that are helpful that I like to use.
- Do be honest with children
- Do use words/phrases like died, dead, passed away, gone to heaven, their body isn’t working anymore
- Do have a conversation with the other adults visiting the child about what words and phrases to use when talking about the death
- Do give the child the opportunity to see and interact with the body if they want to. This is especially helpful for them to see the person is still them but not breathing.
- Do allow children to go to the funeral if they want to
- Do teach children about your religious, spiritual and cultural practises around death
- Do allow children to talk about death
- Don’t lie to children
- Don’t use words/phrases like they are sleeping, they are gone, they are a star now, they are in the sky now
- Don’t force the child to see the body if they don’t want to
- Don’t ban the child from going to the funeral if they want to go
- Don’t ban child from talking about death or change the subject when they bring it up
It is important to remember that children are curious and have no taboo. They can only make of the situation what you teach them. By being honest and matter of fact the concept of death is normalised in a healthy non scary way and is much easier to understand. If the child is told not to talk about it this attitude often follows into adulthood. It is said that a grandparents last lesson they teach their grandchildren is about death and they do it with their own death. Consistency is key and sticking to using the same language when explaining a death is important. Young children may repeatedly ask where the deceased is and it is up to the adult to answer the question until the child understands.
Here are some children’s books that address death which you might find useful. These were donated to Tender by an anonymous donor and have become a great resource for the families who use our services.