How do you talk to your children about death?

By Drum Digital
13 May 2014

When someone in the family becomes seriously ill or dies it can be a difficult time for relatives. Parents may want to protect their children from the pain of death but often this isn’t the best thing to do.

It’s difficult to talk about death, especially if you’re also mourning. Whether a child’s pet or a grandparent has died, seeing that other people have experienced the same thing can help children cope with their own loss.

Avoid figurative language, such as, “We’ve lost Grandpa”. Rather be direct but try to use a comparison your child will understand. One parent explained death to her preschool children like this, “When people get old their bodies stop working, just like a toy with a flat battery. But with people you can’t change the battery.”

Don’t say, “Granny has gone to sleep”. Your young children will expect Granny to wake up. When this doesn’t happen they may develop a fear of going to sleep. Make sure your children know the death of a brother or sister isn’t their fault.

Older children may want more information about what happened. “What is cancer? How did Uncle Peter’s car accident happen?” are the sort of questions children may ask. The best approach is to be honest but avoid giving too much gruesome detail that could frighten them.

You may like to use these books when talking to your children about death:

  • The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia
  • What's Heaven? by Maria Shriver
  • Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas

- Shané Barnard


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