Children's Questions About Death

How do you tell a child that a loved one has died?
Being straightforward is best.  Tell the truth.  The child must understand that death cannot be changed back to life.  Say where the body will be.  Talk about the cause of death.  This may be painful, but the child is entitled to know.  Answer questions directly.  Your own beliefs will, of course, affect what you say about the meaning of death and life after death, bur be careful-some phrases can do harm.  For example, "gone to sleep" may lead to a fear of going to sleep, and "God took her" may lead to hating God.  Moreover, death in a hospital may lead to fear of hospitals unless the role of the hospital is explained.

Your assurance of love and support is essential.
Stress that the loss of one relationship does not mean the loss of others, including the one with you.  Every young child may wonder, "Who will take care of me?" Give assurance that the needs of every kind will be met.

Let the child participate in family sorrow.
Shielding may lead to feelings of rejection, of not belonging.  You and your child need each other.  Let your grief be seen.  It may be distressing to see father cry, but it's more distressing to see "business as usual."

Protect the child from imagined guilt.
Young children often think that anything "bad" that happens in their world is their fault.

Answers to a Child's Questions About Death

It's always difficult to know what to say to a child who is grieving the loss of a loved one, whether it be the death of a friend, family member or relative.  This brochure offers some suggestions in helping children understanding the concepts of death as well as basic terminology.