Talking to kids about death is never easy. We want to protect our little ones from pain and confusion. But talking to kids about death can help them to better understand what happens when a loved one passes. Talking to kids about death can be a way to comfort them—and you—during a very difficult time.
So, where do you begin? It is first important to consider the age and maturity of the child. Don’t think that, because a child is very young, that they aren’t aware of what is going on. If they had a relationship with their grandmother, and Grandma passes away, they need to know what happened. Telling them that Grandma “went to sleep” or “we lost Grandma” can be confusing to a young child. Little ones may wonder when Grandma is going to wake up or when she will be found. Being honest, but using age appropriate language, helps little ones understand that death is a part of life.
You can also rely on your spiritual beliefs when talking to kids about death. For many, telling children that Grandma is in heaven is easy to explain from a religious context. Even if the loved one is someone who died in a tragic accident, you can tell a child that it was time for the loved one to go be with God.
When talking to kids about death, you want to make sure that you provide lots of love and comfort to them. They may have lots of questions. If they do, listen. Then, answer their questions as best as you can. Sometimes children don’t really know what to say. They may just accept what happened and then ask to go play outside. Just because you are grieving and continually thinking about the loss doesn’t mean that your child is.
If, however, your child is having a hard time with death, it may be a good opportunity to celebrate life. This is the part that can comfort both of you. Sharing hugs and talking about good memories of your loved one can be very reassuring. Maybe it’s a time to pull out family photo albums or even create a special scrapbook. Or, if they just need some time to be sad, that’s ok, too. Just as you need to grieve, so do kids. By the way, there is no need to hide your grief. It helps kids understand that being sad is normal. But, letting them know that, even though you are sad, you are going to be fine.
Showing kids that they are loved and that death is part of life can be a process that takes a little while. Dealing with the loss of a loved one takes time. Even for kids. Being there for them and being honest are the best things you can do.