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 or favourite bookstore.
Do you have a another tip or story about this topic that you would like to share with the rest of us? It’s easy – just send it to Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org .
By: Wendy Kurchak, original text AHPCA pamphlet 2014