Talking to children about death
We talk to children about all the biggest taboos – sex, money, bowel movements – so why don’t we talk about death? Whether you’re wondering if you should take your child to a funeral, or you’re trying to figure out how to answer those tricky questions your six-year-old keeps asking you, discussing death with your kids can be a hard task. Here we look at why it shouldn’t be as tough as we think it is, and where to start.
Why should we talk to children about death?
1. Children are curious
Most children are curious and have a lot of questions, whether about why the sky looks blue or why they’ve got to sleep at a reasonable time. Questions about death are inevitable if everything about life is new and strange.
2. Children want to understand
It’s much better to help children gain an understanding of death and dying rather than getting a skewed view of things from people they don’t know, or weird sites on the internet that swear it’s possible to conjure the souls of the departed if only you pay this one-off fee.
3. It’s better to get used to the idea at a young age
Getting a grip on death, funerals, burial and cremation before being confronted with these things when someone close to them dies will help them out.
4. Children encounter death all the time
Just like bruises and an obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine, we can’t usually protect children from death. Whether it’s a grandparent, the family dog dying or a dead pigeon on the pavement, children are going to come across death at some point.
Starting conversations about death with children
Children are never too young to talk about death and dying – it’s more than likely they’ll bring up the topic of conversation themselves. Here’s a few points to remember if you find yourself in that situation.
Use the natural world and what we see everyday
Use the natural world to demonstrate the way all things die. Leaves falling or even the decaying pears in the fruit bowl might prove to be a good talking point.
The death of a pet can be an opportunity to start a conversation about dying, too. Let them be there when it’s buried and you could even make up your own rituals.
Use books to talk to children about death
Use books to create discussions about death and dying. By using fictional scenarios and characters, you can talk meaningfully about death in a way that’s a normal part of everyday life. Stories make for great explainers.
Take children to funerals
If they want to, you might want to let children come along to funerals – it’s a real-world experience they can learn from. Tell them what to expect and explain that a funeral is a way of saying a final goodbye.
How to talk about death with children
- If you think it’s a strange question, or you don’t have time to answer, don’t dismiss a child’s curiosity! Direct them to someone who might have the answers or say you’ll get back to them another time.
- Bear in mind that children have short attention spans, and be prepared to explain something you might not know very much about in a short space of time. A series of short conversations is often easier than a long session.
- There’s no point coming up with something if you don’t know the answer. If you don’t know, say so – you might figure it out together some other time.
- Make it a normal conversation. Be clear and direct in your language, without using phrases such as “passed away” rather than “died” – this can be confusing.
What to keep in mind when talking to children about death
- Children understand words literally, and you may need check they haven’t misunderstood.
- You can’t stop children feeling sad but you can support them by listening and talking.
- Even if you don’t know what to say, it’s better to address the subject than ignore it.
Find out more
At DEATH.io we’ve got a load of articles to help start the conversation about death.
Read our review of the best children’s books that take a look at death and dying
Get some idea from our Funeral Planning page to talk over with those around you