It is natural for children to ask questions about death and dying. Here are some tips to give you confidence in talking to your child.

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Sometimes, adults may hesitate to bring children into conversations about death and dying. We think we are protecting them when, in fact, we cannot protect our children from death. They encounter it all the time – whether it be a dead insect in the garden or a mouse the cat brought in, or something very personal like the fact that their grandparent is going to die soon.

Death features frequently throughout our lives and experiences of the world, from a very early age. Therefore, it is only natural that at some point in a child’s life, they will become curious about what death is and what it means.

At GriefLine, we believe that the better we’re able to discuss the subject of death as being a natural part of life, the less scary it can become.

This Blog aims to support you to feel more comfortable to approach the subject or death and dying, and to engage in meaningful conversations with your children and family.

How to talk to children about death

1. Let the child lead the conversation

It can be helpful to support children to explore and express their thoughts in a safe environment. Make time to take their questions and curiosities seriously. Be led by their questions and what they want to know.

2. Be honest

Children deserve open and honest answers from those who they confide in about their thoughts, feelings and questions about death. Try to explain in clear, simple language that’s right for their age and level of experience. As a natural part of life, there is nothing to be fearful of in letting your child know what death is.

3. Use plain language

It’s important to use direct, plain language. Say ‘died’ and ‘dead’ instead of ‘passed away’, ‘lost’ or ‘gone to sleep’ to avoid confusion. Euphemisms can make children afraid to go to sleep, or make them believe that someone who is died will be found and return.

4. Say ‘I don’t know’

It’s OK to not have all the answers. You may worry that you will say the ‘wrong’ thing. In fact, children may be more able to deal with truth than adults think, and they are often naturally curious about death. You can say ‘No one knows for sure, but I believe that…’ or ask a child ‘What do you think?’

5. Listen carefully

The most important thing is to listen carefully and take your child seriously. If we avoid the topic of death, it can lead to misunderstandings and they may invent their own explanations. They may even start to think that death is something you mustn’t talk about, and it may make them feel scared, worried or upset.

Telling a child that someone has died

Here are some common questions from children, and how you might want to answer.

Q: What is death?

A: Death happens when someone’s body stops working. They no longer breath, eat, or drink. Their body goes cold and stays very still.

Q: Why do people die?

A: Someone’s body might have been damaged by a bad accident, or they might have had a very serious illness that doctors couldn’t make better.

Q: Is death forever?

A: Yes. When someone dies nothing can bring them back to life.

This blog was written by Judit Kecskemeti. She is a BAPT Registered Play Therapist and Registered Member MBACP. Judit works at St Clare Hospice as a Child, Young People & Family Therapist.

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