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Children and Death

Discussing death with a child

When discussing death with a child, there are a few important considerations:

Do not assume the degree of the child’s understanding of the concept of death.  Ask the child questions, such as “What does it mean when we say that someone has died?”  Encourage the child to discuss his/her ideas about death.  Have the child draw a picture illustrating his/her concept of death.  This information will be very helpful as you guide the child to an age-appropriate and developmentally-appropriate understanding of death.

Avoid the use of euphemisms, such as “passed away”, “passed on”, or “fell asleep.”  As comforting as these may seem, they will only add confusion to an already-difficult concept for children to grasp.

Use examples that the child can clearly see and grasp, such as reflecting on the death of a pet, or a leaf in autumn.  Such “real-life” examples provide a clear framework for discussions about the death of a loved one. 

Click the questions below to display answer.

A: Yes, if the child wants to attend. Attending the funeral allows the child to be part of the family at a time when they need love and attention the most. If a child is leery of the funeral, we can arrange a private moment before or after the service for the child to say goodbye. The important thing is that the child is with friends and family and not isolated from the situation.

A: Here are five simple ways to help a grieving child:

  • Be there for the child. Listen when they need to talk, and hug them when they need comfort.
  • Share fond memories about the loved one with the child, and encourage them to share their own memories.
  • Encourage the child to draw a picture or write a letter to their loved one. These items could be placed in the casket or displayed during the visitation or memorial service.
  • Frame a picture of the loved one for the child or give the child another memento to remember their loved one by. (i.e. coins that were in their pocket, a favorite pin, etc.)
  • Involve the child in the funeral. Let them read a poem or letter they have written, sing or play a song during the service, or even just attend the funeral with family and friends.

A: It is impossible to completely shield children from the pain of losing someone they loved. Trying to hide the death from them will only delay their inevitable realization that the person is no longer a part of the child’s life. It is better to include children in the mourning experience and teach them a healthy way to deal with their feelings.

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