Talking to children about death and dying is difficult when your natural instinct might be to protect them from such information. However, in our experience, not talking to children about a death can lead to confusion and sometimes regret and resentment later. Children will cope with, and process, even the most difficult information. Where they are not told, they may begin to imagine scenarios to fill in the gaps.
Younger children understand their world in concrete terms therefore euphemisms like “gone to sleep”, “became a star”, “lost” or “passed over” are not helpful and can be confusing. Instead give clear, honest, age-appropriate explanations using simple language at the child’s pace. Do not be afraid to use the words “died” or “dead”.
When breaking news to children that someone important has died, you may want to:
- begin by saying, “I have something very sad to tell you…”
- find a quiet and comfortable place to break the news, somewhere where you will not be disturbed
- allow unhurried time for the child to respond and ask any questions
- simply start by telling the child that the person has died. This may be enough at first
- follow the child’s lead for more information – if they ask a question they are probably ready for the answer, so again simply reply to the question. Avoid giving too much information or detail
- be prepared to follow this up later with further simple explanations or repetition of the information you have already given