Talking to children about dying, death and grief can be challenging and emotional topics for both parents and children. To help your child navigate these difficult topics, it’s crucial to have an open conversation.
Before starting a discussion, it’s important to tailor the conversation to your child’s level of comprehension. Young children, especially those under the age of six, may not grasp the concept of death and expect the person to come back, while older children may have more of an understanding. Avoid using lingo such as “passed away,” “gone to a better place” or “sleeping” which may confuse or scare them. Instead, use clear and plain language such as “died.” This will help your child understand the importance of the situation.
Remember to be sincere in your responses, but also consider your child’s emotional well-being. Here are some tips for discussing these topics with your child in a thoughtful and age-appropriate manner:
Allow Children to Express Their Emotions
Encourage your child to talk about their feelings and provide them with a safe space to share their emotions. Let them know that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, confused or any other emotion they may be experiencing. Confirm their feelings and remind them that what they’re going through is normal.
Children are naturally curious and may ask several questions, so be prepared to answer them to the best of your ability. It’s important to answer their questions truthfully, but also in a way that won’t overwhelm them with too much information.
Storytelling can be a powerful tool for explaining difficult situations. Children’s books that explore these topics can provide a framework for discussing sensitive matters. During storytelling, encourage them to ask questions and share their thoughts.
Children may worry about their own mortality or the mortality of their loved ones. Let them know that they are loved and cared for, and that you will always be there to support them. Spending more time with them, offering hugs and being there to listen can help provide extra comfort.
Seek Help When Needed
If you feel like your child’s grieving process is becoming overwhelming, seek help from a professional. A therapist or grief counselor can provide additional support and resources to help your child and family cope with loss.
Dying, death and grief are all a natural part of life. By being supportive you can help your child navigate their grieving process and build resiliency.
Abby Demchak is a licensed clinical social worker who primarily sees children and adolescents. She specializes in treating anxiety disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. She can be reached at the Samaritan Lebanon Health Center, 541-451-6282.