Talking With Children about Death

Talking With Children about Death
Discussing death is one of the most difficult, but important conversations
that we as parents and educators must have with our children. Telling the truth in
a straight forward, age appropriate manner, will allow for a dialogue in which the
child will feel free to ask questions and receive answers that they understand.
Using the correct language is essential. Terms such as asleep, passed on,
passed over, or gone on a long journey can be misunderstood by children and
taken literally. A child may be afraid to go to sleep because sleeping then
becomes synonymous with death.
Although children share the same grief emotions as adults they often
express them differently. They may not be able to verbalize their feelings but may
show explosive emotions or acting out behaviors (tantrums), regressive behavior
(sucking their thumbs, difficulty separating from their parents), or emotional
shock and at times appear to lack feelings. Children also sporadically grieve.
They may be sad and crying one minute and play outside happily the next. Other
factors that influence how children grieve are their age, intelligence, previous
experience with death, family environment, religion, and culture.
We are often asked if a child should attend a funeral of a loved one or
friend. If the child expresses a desire to attend the funeral, then let them do so.
Attending the service may help the child to understand that finality of the death
and provide closure, while celebrating the person’s life. The service and
procedures should be explained in advance. If you feel that you may not be able
to provide support for your child at the funeral, having someone the child trusts
and feels comfortable with standing by is recommended. However, do not force a
child to attend the services.
Here are some things that can be helpful while supporting a grieving child:
Routines should be kept as normal as possible.
Say the deceased name.
Keep the memories alive by talking about the person who has died.
(Share stories, pictures, events, anniversaries)
Afford the child opportunities to express their feelings. Listen and give
support to the idea that it is appropriate to express their emotions.
Be patient and adjust your behavior to the child’s needs.
Reinforce that the child is safe, cared for and loved setting limits if their
behavior becomes aggressive.
Share your emotion in a healthy way. If you are crying, discuss what you
are feeling. This will allow the child to express their feelings.
Accept the child where they are in the process. There is no time table for
In addition, there are many resources that the counselor in your school can
provide to you, books, articles, names of grief counselors and therapists as well
as organizations that provide support to families. Please contact your counselor
with any questions.