Discussing Death with a Child
Experiencing the death of the loved one is painful enough on its own. But having to explain to a child that Daddy or Grandma won’t be here to do fun things with anymore makes the experience all the more difficult. As a parent or significant adult in a child’s life, they will look to you for support, answers and advice while they work their way through their grief and develop an understanding of death. The following information is a guide to help you discuss death with a child.
Explaining Death to a Child
DO be honest about death. As hard as it may be to break the news to a child, honesty is the best policy. It is far worse for a child to accidentally discover the “secret” and then be told “We thought is was best not to tell you.”
DON’T use euphemisms. Explaining death to a child as “Uncle Johnny went on a long trip” or “Grandma Betty is sleeping” may instill fear in the child of going on a trip or to sleep. It is better to explain in simple phrases like “dead means a person’s body has stopped working and won’t work any more.”
DO help children express their feelings. Encourage children to cry out their grief and talk out their thoughts and feelings about death.
DO be a good listener. Like adults, children need to talk about the loss and their feelings connected to it.
DON’T tell a child how to feel. Let a child experience and express grief in their own way.
DO offer continuous love and assurance. Children need to know they are loved to feel secure. By being present and available during the difficult mourning process, parents can help their children bear the pain.
DON’T hide your grief from children. Seeing you grieve will let children know that it is normal and healthy to cry and feel sad after death.
DO invite others to help your children. Often, someone outside the family can provide much needed additional comfort, concern and care.
DON’T assume children will just “get over it.” Whether you are dealing with a young child or adolescent, be proactive and provide all of the comfort and consolation you can.
DO nurture faith but DON’T blame your personal religious God. Often death will draw religious questions from a child. Explaining to a child that “God needed daddy,” or “It was God’s will,” can create future spiritual problems. Instead, remind your child that God shares our pain and will help us get through the crisis.”