When a loved one dies, it can be very difficult to process, even for adults. Many parents find it especially hard to talk to their children about death. It’s uncomfortable and you might not even know where to start, but death is a natural part of life’s journey — and if you explain it to children simply and with sensitivity, you can help them process the information in a healthy way.
First, don’t assume your child doesn’t already know about death. Even before they experience the death of a beloved relative or cherished pet, they see dead bugs, dead flowers and other indications that living things don’t last forever. Fairy tales touch on death, as well. Children have a wonderful natural curiosity that leads them to be inquisitive about the world around them, and it’s important to tell them the truth so that they don’t have misconceptions that may prove damaging.
When you talk to a child about death, use simple language.
- Don’t speak in euphemisms, which can lead to confusion. Saying someone “has gone away” or “fallen asleep” may seem like a good way to soften the blow, but in fact, it can cause children to become anxious. They might worry when a parent goes on a business trip that he or she will not return, or they might fear that they’ll fall asleep themselves and never awaken.
- Explain death simply. Tell the child that when someone dies, the body stops working. The person’s heart stops beating, and he or she no longer breathes. Explain that death is irreversible and that the person is no longer in the body.
- Listen to the child, taking cues as to readiness and answering questions . Don’t go into great detail or over-explain. It’s better to answer questions as they are asked rather than overload the child with information that’s difficult to process.
- Consider reading an age-appropriate book about death. The right book can be a valuable tool for a difficult conversation. Look for books that explain death simply, in terms the child can readily understand.
At Evergreen Cemetery and Mortuary, we provide support to families even after the funeral is over. If you’ve lost a loved one, our grief support team can help you find resources to help you and your family heal. Call us at (520) 399-6652 to learn more.