Life Experiences & Lessons Learned: How to Talk to Your Kids About Death

Discussing death with your children is a tough subject for lots of parents, but it’s a discussion that you shouldn’t avoid. Death is a part of life that everyone will experience and it’s your job as parents to make sure that your kids are aware and well-informed about it. More importantly, it’s important that you let them know that it’s okay to talk about it.

Death is all around us and children experience death in more ways than one. You’d actually be quite surprised at how familiar your children are with death. They see dead bugs, dead flowers, and even dead animals on the side of the road when riding in the car with you. Children read about death in some of their favorite fairytales, they see it in cartoons, and they even act out death scenes from school plays.

That just goes to show you that your children have already experienced death in some form or variation, and you just didn’t realize it because it’s not the type of death you are thinking would deeply affect them, but it actually does. Children start to feel empathy at a very young age. Take for instance a family pet. A child can suffer greatly when their pet dog dies. You wouldn’t think so because they’re so young, but your child can grow a deep attachment to their pet and become very sad when they pass away.

According to parents.com, the death of a pet is a child’s first experience with death and depending on how old your child is, they deal with death in very different ways. Some children might ask if they’re the cause of the pet’s death or feel like they are the cause of their pet’s death. When children feel like that, it’s important that you comfort them during this difficult time.

Allowing them to talk about death and express their feelings will show them that what they have to say is important and that they can feel at ease in knowing that you’re there for them when they need you for comfort. In talking to your kids about death, you want to approach it in the utmost care by first realizing that every grief journey is unique for every child.

Embarking on Your Child’s Grief Journey Together

When dealing with the loss of a loved one, you have to realize that each child will deal with that loss differently from your other children. In helping your child cope with loss, you’ll more than likely be coping with death as well so it’s perfectly fine to grieve with your children as well. You don’t have to shut off your own feelings and emotions with loss just to appear “strong” for your children.

Whether you’ve lost a child and your other child is grieving the loss of their sibling or if a family member passed away, you both will be grieving and sometimes grieving together is a great coping mechanism.

How to Help Your Child Cope With Death

Don’t Avoid the Conversation

Talking about death, again, is going to be hard but you shouldn’t avoid the conversation. They need to know that it’s part of life. You don’t necessarily need to bring it up as a topic of conversation over dinner but when a loved one does pass, it’s the perfect time to talk about it. Depending on how old your kids are, it can even lead to a conversation about your own death.

It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out conversation to make them think that you’re about to die but if they’re old enough to understand, you certainly can have that conversation with them. As  a parent, you want to help them cope with death but in doing so, it can also be a reality check for you as well.

When coping with death, it sometimes forces you to face your own mortality, making you take the necessary steps to plan your end-of-life arrangements to make sure your family is taken care of in your absence… The thought of leaving your kids can be a hard pill to swallow but it has to be done.

Be Factual and Direct About What Happened

In other words, in order to help your children cope with death, you should avoid using phrases like “they’re in a better place” and even “passed away” because it can be confusing to kids… You have to be direct with your language; “your grandmother died” is honestly the best way to help your children cope. “No longer with us” and “moved on” doesn’t explain what happened, which will prompt more question that you have to explain when you can easily just be upfront and honest about why their loved one is “no longer with us.”

Engage Them in Activities to Celebrate Their Loved One

Sometimes the best way to help children cope with the death of a loved one is to celebrate them. Whether on their loved one’s birthday or anniversary, incorporate your kids to celebrate their life and the memories they shared with them. You can have a picnic at their grave, have a balloon release, or sit at home and eat the foods they once loved and watch their favorite movies. Create some kind of ritual or tradition to keep their memory alive.

It is important to know that when you lose someone you love, there will be a hole in your heart that will never be closed because your loved one filled that hole. You never really get over losing someone you love but with time, it gets easier to move forward and keep their memory alive… you need to explain that to your children as well.

Photo by Mike Labrum

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