Talking to children about death can be hard, even if you have experience talking to them about illness. You might be worried about how much your child will understand or how they will react. Speaking honestly can help them to feel supported.
Children need to know what has happened to the person who has died. Try to explain it in clear, simple terms that are suitable for their age. You can give them information in small amounts at a time, especially if your children are very young, to help them to understand. Details can follow later.
Use Plain Language
Avoid using euphemisms. Avoid explanations like the person has ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘gone away’. This can make your child feel frightened of going to sleep or worry when you leave the house.
Be prepared for your child to be curious and to ask a lot of questions. Answering questions might be distressing for you, but it’s part of your child’s need for reassurance and helping them process information. Be prepared to answer questions through the whole process, whether it’s explaining what funeral directors do or where the person will go now.
Children might feel as though the person has died as a result of something that they might have said or done. Explain how and why they aren’t to blame. It might be useful to give some examples, like explaining that the person’s heart stopped working.
Ask Them To Tell Their Story
To protect children, adults sometimes try to avoid talking about the person who has died, but they may want to talk. They need to tell their story to help them remember the person who died. They had an important relationship with them too.
Listening to them can help you understand what they understand about what has happened and correct anything that isn’t right. Try not to tell them how they should feel. Any feelings are okay.
Can Talking About Death Help A Child?
Adults want to protect children by not telling them about what’s going on, but children will notice that something is wrong and might feel confused and upset. They will probably prefer to know, even if it’s sad, rather than coping without knowing.
Talking to a child about death can help them to feel supported and secure. They will probably have some worries and questions that they feel anxious about bringing up. Talking about death can make them feel more comfortable to ask what they need to, and more able to discuss their feelings. If they see that the adults are showing their feelings, they should feel more able to open up themselves.
If they aren’t told about the death, they might start to come up with their own explanation of why the person isn’t there anymore. Not knowing why someone died can make them feel guilty that they caused it. They might worry they can catch the illness if they don’t have enough information.