My kids and I were watching a movie the other night in which one of the characters was in the hospital, after being in a car accident.
“What’s going to happen to him?” my son asked me with a sad look on his face.
I replied hesitantly, “Well he’s had a bad accident and he might die.”
This got my other kids to join in on the discussion about what they thought was going to happen to the poor guy, what happens when someone dies, what’s done to the body and so on. I realized that I haven’t had any real conversations about death with my kids before.
We tend to avoid bringing up the topic with our kids mostly because it makes us feel uncomfortable. But, it’s actually a good idea to make death a part of normal conversations with our children, to teach them that death is something natural and permanent. It’s an even better idea to start talking about death when they are young and haven’t been affected yet by someone close to them passing away.
Here is a guide for parents on how to talk to their children about death and dying:
- Start your conversation by mentioning an example.
It could be a scene from a movie or book where someone was dying or it could be a houseplant that has suddenly wilted or a dead bird at the park. You can ask them questions about what they already know and then add on about how death means that its life has ended and that it will no longer be living again. Understanding that death is something permanent is hard for young children so it might need a few discussions for them to understand that.
- Be direct and concrete
You might have your own beliefs about what happens after a person dies but when talking about death to a young child, it’s better to tell them things that are concrete such as when you die, your heart stops working so you can no longer eat, walk, talk ever again. Avoid saying things like ‘they’re in a better place,’ ‘they’ve turned into stars’ or ‘they’re asleep’ because this might confuse a young child even more.
- Take it slowly
Adults have a hard time discussing death so understandably, it will be a hard subject for your young kids to absorb. Don’t try to give loads of information at one time but, rather give bits of information over several days so your child isn’t overwhelmed. You’ll be able to gauge how much your child understands by their questions.
- Let them grieve in their own way
If someone significant in your child’s life has died, they will go through their own grieving process. Let them know it’s okay for them to cry and that you’re there to talk whenever they need to. Children often become silent or isolate themselves or sometimes don’t show any reaction at all which are normal responses are for someone who is grieving.
- Help them find closure
Attending the funeral, writing a tribute, drawing a picture or making a memory box are all good ways for your kids to find closure and to help say goodbye to someone dear to them who has died. Just be there to provide reassurance and comfort and let them figure out the best way to remember that person and deal with their emotions.
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About the Founder
Internationally Recognised Emotional Literacy & Mindfulness Expert Tenille Bentley is the founder of The Emotional Literacy and Mindfulness Academy and the author of the children’s emotional literacy books with Jazzy and Pinky and The Energy Ball. Giving children a wonderful introduction to understanding their emotions and what do with them.
Tenille has been featured on Channel 9 News and other major outlets. Her work has been recognised in the community by The Governor of Western Australia, The Prime Minister of Australia and Australian Financial Review.
As a child she experienced severe anxiety and emotional traumas as well as bullying which left her feeling isolated, and unable to understand why she was feeling the way she did. As an adult this impacted her ability to make healthy decisions because she didn’t have the tools to understand her emotions.
Which is why she is passionate about equipping parents with the tools to support their children to make better decisions in life and healthy ones to help support and create a balanced home life.