Talking to your kids about death

I recently found out that a family member is very ill and may possibly die. I have 3 young children that I need to figure out how to tell them. I have been doing some research online because I want to make sure that I don’t say the wrong thing to them or confuse them about what is going on. I also want to make sure I don’t scare them because this seems to be a subject that can do some harm if it’s not explained right. After researching a bit online I found a few good ideas from varies different sites.

 

*For all children, after a loss, it is important to be honest and direct and provide age appropriate explanations of what happened. Avoid using euphemisms when explaining death, such as the person went on a ‘journey’ or is ‘going to be asleep forever.’ Younger children may take these explanations literally and be afraid to go on a trip or journey or go to sleep themselves because they will associate those things with dying.

Also avoid saying things like ‘grandpa went to the hospital,’ ‘got sick,’ or ‘had an accident’ and then ‘died’. The next time someone else or the child himself gets sick or has to go to the hospital, he may believe that he will die, since he may associate these events with someone else’s death. It is better to say that it was a ‘severe accident’ or that the person was ‘very sick and regular medicines wouldn’t work,’ so that your child understands that people don’t normally die after all accidents, or after getting sick, or going to the hospital.

 

While it is important to answer questions directly and honestly, you do not need to include details that may frighten your child. School age children can usually understand biological functioning, and so you can say things like ‘he was so sick that his body stopped working,’ or ‘his heart stopped working,’ or ‘he had a severe case of pneumonia that caused his lungs to stop working.’ Even younger children should be told that the deceased person’s body doesn’t work anymore because they might not understand this on their own, and they may worry that he can’t breath after being buried or that he will be cold, etc.

Some difficult questions that may come up and which you should be prepared to answer include: ‘will I die?’ or ‘will mommy or daddy die?.’ Again, it is important to be direct and honest. You can tell him that people normally don’t die until they are very old and reassure him that while everyone does die, you will all live a long time. It becomes more difficult if the person that died was young, such as a sibling or friend.

When explaining death, take your cues from your child as to what he wants to or is ready to hear. If you aren’t sure, then give a simple explanation and ask him if he has any questions. Or ask him a follow up question later to see if he is ready to hear more.*

-thanks to keeps kids healthy


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