Talking about death with other adults can be an awkward, and sometimes a very upsetting and heart-breaking experience. It is even harder when you have to bring up the topic of death with children – perhaps they have learned that somebody has died and has asked you what it means, maybe you have been invited to a funeral, or perhaps you may even have to explain to your child that a loved one, such as a grandparent, has passed away. As hard as it may be to talk about it, death is an inevitable part of life, so here are some tips on how to approach this topic with your little ones in the best way possible.
Consider the Situation
First off all, it’s important to understand that there is no one-size-fits-all way to speak to your child about death. Some parents may find themselves having to come up with an explanation when their child overhears them talking about taking out life insurance. Others could find themselves having the conversation over the death of a pet. In the worst case scenario, you may need to explain death and dying to your child whilst making funeral plans for a much-loved family member. It’s also important to take your child’s personality into consideration when approaching this topic with them, too.
When talking to your child about death, it’s important to listen to what they have to say and allow them to ask any questions that they have. For example, you might expect questions from your child regarding planning a funeral and what it is for, why people die, where people go after they die, and whether or not they are going to die one day. These questions can be painful to answer, but it’s important that you are honest with your child and give them the answers, and the closure, in some cases, that they need.
How Much Information to Share
How much information that you share with your child about the subject of death is entirely dependent on the unique situation. For example, if you’re having a general conversation on the topic due to something that a child has heard or seen, there will be less information to share than in a situation where a close family member has died, for example. You will want to be as honest as possible with your child when answering their questions, but of course you do not want to share with them any information which is particularly traumatizing. Child psychologists recommend leaving out details which may unnecessarily upset your child, but avoiding referring to death as ‘going to sleep’, for example, as this may confuse them. Some parents may even help their child to understand by involving them a little in the funeral plan where applicable, for example asking them which color flowers would be best or allowing them to buy something special to place on the grave.
Talking to your little ones about death and dying is a conversation that most parents never want to have. But, it is sadly inevitable, which is why it’s important to make sure that you approach it right.