*This is a collaborative post* Talking to children about a death in the family can be hard, even if you have experience talking to them about difficult subjects like illness. You might be worried about how much your child will understand about what’s happened or how they will respond to the news. Speaking honestly can help them a lot.
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Children need to be told what has happened to the person who has died. Try to explain the death to them in clear, simple terms that are suitable for their level of understanding. You can give them information in small amounts at a time, especially if your children are very young, to help them to process it. When they understand that someone has died, you can explain why they died later on, for example.
Use Plain Language
Stay away from euphemisms like the person has ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘gone away’. This can make your child feel scared of going to sleep themselves or scared that you won’t come back when you leave the house.
Be prepared for your child to have a lot of questions for you. Answering questions about the death might be upsetting for you, but it’s part of your child understanding what has happened and processing the news. Be prepared to answer a lot of questions through the whole process, whether it’s explaining what funeral directors do or what will happen to the person’s belongings now.
Ask Them To Tell Their Story
To protect children from feeling sad, adults sometimes feel as though they should avoid talking about the person who has died, but your child might actually want to talk. They need to tell their own story about what happened to help them remember the person who died. They had an important relationship with them too and might want to talk about them.
Listening to your child talk about the death can help you to see what they think about what happened and correct anything they have misunderstood. Try not to tell them how they should feel.
Can Talking About Death Help A Child?
Adults often want to protect children by not giving them bad news, but children will be aware that something is wrong and not knowing can make them feel worse. Most children will prefer to know, even if it’s sad, rather than coming up with their own explanations for what’s going on.
Talking to a child about death can help them to feel supported and secure. They will likely have some questions that they feel concerned about asking you. Talking about death can make them feel more comfortable to ask these questions, and more able to discuss their feelings. If they see that the adults are showing their feelings, they will 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 do this too, and cause worries that they can catch the illness themselves if they don’t have enough information.