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.