How to talk to children about death

How to talk to children about death

We are often inclined to think that hiding or not talking about a problem is a way to overcome it and forget it happened in the first place. But that could not possibly be the case around children. They are really good observers, and nothing could go unseen in their presence.

When it comes to death, talking about it to a child could be overwhelming and confusing. The first step to help them deal with this inevitable fact of life is letting them know that it’s okay to talk about it.

Talking to them about death and loss might comfort them, and give them answers to a lot of questions running through their minds.

In fact, a child is able to see the pain and sadness lived by his or her family after the loss of a loved one. It is then important to talk about this subject in a sensitive way and explain to them that death is a part of the natural cycle of life. You can always start by simple examples (trees, butterflies, fish, etc…) and explain to them that each thing has its own life duration.

The comprehension of death would obviously differ according to the child’s age. A newborn can react by crying more than usual, eating less and having sleeping problems, while a five-year-old can understand that the heart stopped beating but still thinks that it is reversible.

It is essential to mention to a child that the person who died won’t be coming back, but that it’s still possible to remember all the happy moments spent with them.

Sometimes, you would be surprised to see no reaction at all after telling a child that someone has passed away. In reality, they did understand, but they need time to integrate the new information.

The most important part of talking about death to children is the choice of words. Never use words like “sleeping,” “left” or “travelled.” This could induce fear of going to bed, thinking that they might die too, and fearing that anyone who travels won’t be coming back.

Saying that “grandma was sick” has the same impact. They could think that a simple flu can cause death. Instead of all of this, try to tell them the truth, by adopting simpler words, answering their questions and assuring them that death is not contagious and that it is not their fault, because children tend to feel guilty about a bad behavior they once had.

Letting the child attend the funeral and the mourning depends on the family’s values, the parents’ choice and the child’s age. But if you decide to include them, make sure they aren’t in the first line nor close to the coffin, and always accompanied by someone they trust and love, in case they felt like leaving.

Answering a child’s questions about death might appear to be a difficult task, but leaving them worried and anxious could lead to more damage later on.

Here is a table showing the difference in the comprehension of death according to the child’s age.

Picture credit: Scholarblogs.emory.edu

Picture credit: Scholarblogs.emory.edu

Cover photo credit: expertbeacon.com

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