Discussing Death With Your Child

We try to protect our children from scary situations but sometimes it isn't always easy. One topic that might bring fear to your little one is losing a loved one. How do you explain what is happening when someone you know passes away?

My family has suffered some loss over the last few years. My aunt passed away after being sick in the hospital and and a team mate of my husband died suddenly last year as well, he was only 39 years old. During bith these difficult times, my kids could see I was very upset but didn't truly understand why. My daughter started asking questions and I was honest letting her know it was because I was sad I wouldn't see these people anymore. She seemed satisfied with this answer but mostly because the people who died were not people she was close too. I started to wonder what I would have told her if the person who passed away was someone she was used to seeing all the time.

Sooner or later (preferably later) I know I am going to have this tough discussion with my kids. I found some great tips on various sites that will help me when the time comes. The biggest reason we have a problem with the discussion is how uncomfortable we feel with the subject. We need to get a hold of our feelings so we can have an honest conversation with them. We can't help our children process their feelings while ours are still in turmoil.

I found a great article on Parents.com that really helped answer many questions that I had. Here are just a few of the things I learned from it.

  1. When your child asks "Why did they die?", don't use words like "They went to sleep". This can cause anxiety in your children and make them afraid to go to sleep.  I like the example that Parents shares that a mom used with her kids. When Donna Maria Johnson's father died, she told her kids, Vanessa, then 5, and Brooks, then 3, that when people get very old, their bodies stop working, just like when a toy's batteries run out. "But then I explained that you can't replace a person's batteries," says the mom from Charlotte, North Carolina. "That made sense to them."
  2. I come from a Catholic background so Heaven is a topic we discuss in our family and most recently I let my children know that a coworker of mine had died and gone to Heaven. I was happy to see that this made sense to my children as they do go to Catholic school so they know that it is a good place. I think it is important that you use your own religious beliefs as part of your discussion or if you don't have a religion, try letting them decide where people go when they die. Say something like, "No one knows for sure. Some people think you go to heaven when you die, while others believe people come back on earth as different creatures. What do you think?"
  3. The decision to take your child to a funeral is a tough one to make. I don't believe there is a wrong or right answer. You really need to use your own judgement here. Consider these factors: Are they going to be able to handle a room full of adults possibly crying and being upset? Kids may be a comfort to many in attendance but you also need to keep your child's feelings at the forefront. They are kids so are you really going to expect them to sit quietly through the service without being disruptive or bored?
  4. In most cases, the first experience a child has of losing a loved one is the loss of a pet.  Whether it be a fish, cat or dog, this can be as emotional to a person as losing a family member. I think it is just as important to have a small "funeral" for them or to have a memorial, where your kids can get a chance to say good bye and to talk about their feelings.

The topic of death is a conversation none of us ever wants to have with our kids and you can never truly be prepared but I hope this will help bring some ease to the discussion. 

Thank you Parents.com for these and the other tips you share!


Written by Angela Hickman, famiizuu member and mom to 2 awesome kids!