Talking to children about death is very important. Yet, as parents it’s one of the most difficult conversations we’ll have with our children.
We’ve collected the thoughts of our psychologists and grief counselors to offer tips and resources on how to best approach this delicate subject.
Tips for Talking to Children About Death
When talking to children about death, use language and concepts appropriate for their age. Grasping the concept of death could be quite difficult for someone that’s very young or even older children who may not be ready for such a somber topic. We’ve included information about how to talk to children of every age in the resources below.
Take a Direct Approach
When you’re talking to children about death, tell the truth, don’t lie or skirt the reality of death. Don’t ever say that the person has gone to sleep. This may confuse your child, and give them mixed signals about sleeping. Your child will see adults emotionally upset and crying and it can cause the child to fear sleep, thinking that it will make their family members sad.
Ask and Answer Questions
When you are talking to children about death, ask them questions. Ask them if they understand the situation. Ask if they have any questions. You may be surprised what they do and don’t know. This will give you an opportunity to respond to what is foremost on their minds. Again, don’t make up stories, be as honest as possible and reassure them that death is a part of life.
Resources for Talking to Children About Death
We have found the following resources offer a wealth of information on talking to children about death:
- My Dog Died Today written and illustrated by Fran Steinmark
- Water Bugs and Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children, A Coloring Book by Doris Stickney and illustrated by Robin Henderson Nordstrom
- Gentle Willow: A Story For Children About Dying by Joyce C. Mills and illustrated by Cary Pillo
- The Next Place by Warren Hanson
- The Fall Of Freddie The Leaf: A Story Of Life For All Ages by Leo Buscaglia, Ph.D
- What’s Heaven by Maria Shriver and illustrated by Sandra Speidel
- Kids Learn About Death And Celebrating Life by Billie Staton Humphrey
- A Rainbow Bridge for Gus: A Story About the Loss of a Pet by Barbara Bareis Rigabar
- Death is Stupid by Anastasia Higginbotham
- Harry and Hopper by Margaret Wild and Freya Blackwood
- I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm
- How to Talk to Your Preschooler About Death by Mary VanClay
- Helping Your Child Deal with Death by D’Arcy Lyness, Ph. D.
- How to Help Your Child Grieve by Candy Arrington
- Parent Resources — Dealing With Death by Fred Rogers Productions
- Grief and Children by American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry
Helping Grieving Children and Teenagers by Cancer.Net