How to Talk to Children About Death

Kids need to know the truth. Do not lie or distort the facts. However, you do not have to provide all the facts at once. Start with a few facts and give more as they ask for them so you do not overwhelm with information.

Kids need to know that their needs are going to be met and that you will be there for them.

You cannot promise that you will not die. Instead, ensure their safety. For older children and adolescents, reassure them who will be there to care for them.

Do not arrive at a funeral without telling a child what they will see and what to expect. Similarly, prepare a child for what they might see, feel, or hear in the coming days.

Do not exclude children. Empower them to make decisions about their participation in rituals and give opportunities for them to feel like they can contribute.

A child may need to go outside and play, be alone, or be with friends.

A child may seem indifferent or provide another surprising response. That is okay. Children process feelings differently, especially if they do not understand the finality or enormity of what has happened.

Religious ideas are often abstract and confusing to a child and do not necessarily help them understand what “death” means. If you say, “Mommy has gone to heaven” a child may be confused and wonder when Mommy will come back, how to get to heaven to see Mommy, or even think God is selfish for taking Mommy away. Explaining the concept and your beliefs about death takes time, and should be considered a process, not a one-time statement.