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Talking to Kids About Death

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 7 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
 
Discussing Death Talking About Death

As the old saying goes, nothing is certain but death and taxes. While you probably have a few more years to go before you need to discuss taxes with your kids, the subject of death may well raise its ugly head during childhood. Chances are whether it is a pet, a loved one, or the loved one of a friend, your children will come face to face with the concept of death well before you would like them to. Rather than waiting for tragedy to strike, discuss death with your children when you are all calm and can talk rationally. While it may not be easy, talking to your kids about death is very important.

Why Is It Important to Talk to Kids About Death?

Talking to kids about death is important as a way to prepare them for the losses they will inevitably face in the future. If children understand the concept of "death" before they must actually deal with a loss themselves, it will be easier for them to work through. Give them the chance to understand the concept before they face the emotional implications and the whole family will benefit.

When Should You Talk to Your Kids About Death?

Every parent chooses a different time to talk with their kids about death. Beginning early, so that death does not seem like a secret or something you are ashamed to talk about, is best. Talking about death in a gentle way, and about every day events, can also be helpful. Consider talking with your kids about:
  • The death of plants and flowers.
  • The death of leaves on the trees in the autumn.
  • The death of a television or book character.
  • The death of a pet or neighbourhood animal.

How Should You Talk to Your Kids About Death?

It may be very easy to decide to talk to your kids about death, but much harder to actually sit down and begin the conversation. Whenever you decide the time is right, remember:
  • Not to use euphemisms or code words. "Passed away" may mean nothing to a child. Simply use the words "death" "die" and "died" instead.
  • Think of concrete examples. Remind your children of when their goldfish died as an illustration of your point.
  • Explain that feeling grief and sadness is ok, and that everyone feels these emotions when someone or something they love dies.
  • Don't lie to your children. Young children in particular may ask if they will die. Answer honestly that everyone will die, but hopefully no one you love will die for a very long time.
  • Be ready for questions. Many young children will want know:
    • Where people who have died go.
    • If heaven and hell are real.
    • What it is like in heaven and hell.
    • If ghosts are real.
    • If a miracle could bring someone back to life.
    • What happens to the body of someone who has died.
    • What a funeral is like.
    • If you have ever been to a funeral.
    • If you have ever known anyone who has died.

What Do You Do If Your Child Becomes Obsessed With Death?

After speaking with your children about death, it is likely that they may become interested in or fixated on the subject. If you feel your children are spending too much time thinking about death, consider setting up some life affirming activities to balance these thoughts, such as:
  • Planting flower gardens and watching them grow.
  • Planting a small vegetable patch and enjoying the results.
  • Asking your child to create a picture or piece of art about their thoughts.
  • Asking your child to write a story or poem about their thoughts.
  • Setting up some fun family activities to enjoy in the future.
  • Planning a family vacation or day trip to enjoy together.
Death can be a frightening and confusing concept for young children. Talking to your kids about death can help put to rest some of their fears and help them work through their confusion. When you decide to speak to your children about death, keep the conversation open, honest and simple. Answer all of your children's questions, and let them know that they can ask more at any time. Good luck!

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