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As parents, there are a lot of hard conversations that we have to have with our children. One of these is the topic of death. What is it? What does it mean? Why will they never see great-grandma again?

One of the reasons that talking about death with kids is so difficult is the fact that we don’t actually have the answers to any of those questions. Sure, we know what death is in the scientific sense, and even a little more as to what it means for those of us left living. But we don’t really know anything about the why, or the meaning, do we?

While it’s tempting to give vague non-answers or pseudo-hope, it’s important to always be honest with our children. Here are a few ways to talk about death with kids when it comes up.

What is death?

When you’re approached with this question, it’s important to be clear, but soft. Death is the end of life. It means that a person won’t be here anymore, because their body has stopped working.

Why?

Our bodies are like toys, they don’t last forever. Just like people are being born every day, people leave every day. Unfortunately it’s just a fact of life.

How?

This can be tricky. If someone is dying or has died of illness, you can say that they were really sick and it caused them to die.

The in-depth-ness of your explanation will depend on the child’s age. If the relative’s death was an accident, you can use it as a safety lesson. An act of violence is probably the most difficult to explain, but it does bring up the “there are bad people in the world” talk.

But it’s not fair!

I would approach this response with a “why?”. We don’t want to give our children an unhealthy fear of death, so asking them why they think it’s bad right off can curb that. Here are some responses you might get to “why is it not fair?”

  • Because I miss them- “I know, but you still remember their last visit, right? Remember the fun you had? You’ll always have that.”
  • Because it sounds like it hurt- “It probably did, but they’re not hurting anymore.”
  • Because it sounds scary- “We don’t know if anything scary happens after death. You don’t have to be afraid of something just because it’s unknown.”

The most important thing to remember when explaining death to a child is to remember that it’s okay to admit you don’t know. It’s actually better to do that than to make up stories that they’ll find out are untrue later.

Don’t be afraid to let your child have a healthy understanding of death; it could keep them from developing an unhealthy fear or fascination with it.

Image of “family” from Shutterstock
  • Such a difficult subject to broach with children. They didn’t have a lot of experience losing loved ones, so I didn’t have to give many talks

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  • Not easy!Really interesting article! Thanks for sharing this!

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  • This is such a very difficult situation, nice to get some advice

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  • keep it age appropriate and kids don’t really understand this too well

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  • I remember when a friend of ours daughter was 2 1/2 when her Uncle died. Her parents didn’t have time to explain a lot to her as they had to notify his parents who were away at the time and couldn’t be contacted by phone. They had to drive to their location which was a long trip. The little one asked why he had to die. Grandma couldn’t think of a great answer for her age, so she told her that everybody and everything dies eventually, that even the flowers in the garden die at the end of their lives. Missy had a fascination for the garden and had watched her Grandma pick off the dead flowers and had asked why she had picked them off. Fortunately Grandma had explained that they had diedand showed how they had gone brown instead of the bright pink they had been.

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  • Wonderful tips thank my ou for sharing

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  • Thanks for sharing this thoughtful and timely advice.

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  • I think be as open as you can per there age, I am amazed at what my kids have leant being farm kids.

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  • The article mentions pseudo hope. I could never tell children that the loved one who has died is now a star or butterfly or something any more than tell that to a grieving adult. My grandchildren know Pa and I love and trust Jesus and I have told my oldest in normal conversation that if I am scared or sad I tell Him about it and ask Him to help me. He always has in the past. I also told her that Jesus is helping me get ready to go to my real home with Him one day when I have finished living on earth. That is the truth. I know it will help her to understand when Pa or I go.

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  • Unfortunately with life comes death, be as open and as honest as you can.

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  • ive just gone through this with 4 kids and its very hard to explain :)

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  • being open and honest is the best policy and also saying you don’t know when that is the truth

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  • I’ve never hidden death from my kids they have all gone to funerals from a young age, as this is something in life everyone has to deal with no matter how old they are, I found it so much easier when my dad got sick last year and we were given 2 months with him, that having my kids experienced death in the family and friends before they coped a lot better, it was a very tough and trying time but not having these extra questions made it easier for me to help them grieve properly. We always pick a star so they can always walk outside and say hello to their lost family and friends.

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  • I try to get my kids to understand about death and my 6 yr old granddaughter has an understanding when she lost her great nan when she was 4 and got to learn first hand

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  • I’ve always been open and honest with my kids but protecting them at the same time, all my kids have experienced many deaths and we pick a star for that important person, we talk about them all the time how they are feeling about what’s going on, express all emotions do they understand what each emotion means and how to express it without portraying the wrong emotion and getting worked up, my kids are very well adjusted to any thing that arises. We openly talk and they talk to me about anything they don’t hide things from me, we have had bullying issues at school and we talk about it then resolve it. I find it helps them grow in this crazy world we live in into wise adults I can only do my best and always be there no matter what arises.

    Reply

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