Talking to children about death and dying can be a daunting task for many reasons; for instance, a child’s understanding of death and dying depends on their age and stage of development. However, if a child is asking a question, they are ready to hear an honest answer.
A caring adult can help a young child understand a difficult situation by following these guidelines:
- Use clear, concrete language. Avoid euphemisms such as “Fluffy has gone to sleep.” Instead, try “Fluffy is dead, which means her body doesn’t work anymore.”
- Use age appropriate vocabulary. Avoid language such as “Fluffy is brain dead.” Try “Fluffy’s brain has stopped working. That means that she can’t think or feel anything anymore.”
- To clarify that the child understands what has been explained, ask them to tell you what they understand to be happening.
- Be patient. You may need to explain the situation more than once, in more than one way.
There are a number of thoughtful books which can also help explain death and dying to kids. Check out your public library, favourite bookstore or the Children’s Grief Centre.
Written by Wendy Kurchak, original text AHPCA pamphlet