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How do I explain death to my child?

Updated on November 19, 2014
Grief & Children
Grief & Children | Source

When a love one dies we can feel pain uncontrollable sadness, and anger etc. At times, it is hard to express how you feel to family or friends. Talking about the times you shared an loving memories can be a comfort. As parents, we never want our child to hurt or feel sad we wish we could take away the pain. Which is how I felt when I had to explain death to my child. We all know that each day will be a challenge, by God's grace each day gets better with time.

The question is not whether we will die, but how we will live

— Dr. Joan Borysenko, 1945

How do I explain death to my child ?

What are ways you can help your child talk about their feelings?

  • 0% Share with your children how you feel
  • 0% Spend the day talking about the memories you shared with your love one
  • 0% All of the above would be a good start
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Expressing your feelings

Talking and explaining to your child about death lis a very hard subject. There is know easy way to explain death to your child. Better Health of Victoria has composed the following suggestions:

  • Tell the truth in a simple direct way
  • Use concrete words that children know, for example, use the word died
  • If a child is young use pictures, toys, and books
  • Children are curious so be prepared for regular and repeated questions
  • Explore with children the meaning of death, this can include cultural beliefs and practices
  • If you are too distressed to answer your child's questions, ask another adult that you and your child trust to talk to the child.
  • Don't pretend that you are not sad, express how you feel, this can help your child express their own feelings

Children & Depression
Children & Depression | Source

Process of Grief - Med line Plus

The process of grief takes time, and everyone handles grief in their own way. Reassuraning your child with love and care is the most important thing. If your child is having a hard time accepting what has happen, they may show different types of behavior:

  • Long-term denial
  • Repeated crying spells
  • Disabling depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Persistent anger
  • Persistent unhappiness
  • Social withdrawl
  • Severe separation anxiety
  • Deliquency or promiscuity
  • Decline in school performance
  • Persistent sleep problems
  • Eating disorders

Long-term avoidance of feelings or depression, talk to your child's doctor if you notice any of these changes in behavior.

Feelings of sadness and depression
Feelings of sadness and depression | Source

You have been my friend, That in itself is a tremendous thing

— Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Anxiety & Grief

Anxiety can be a normal part of the grief process. If the anxiety gets worse or does not go away after a period of time, consult your doctor. Anxiety Disorders-National Inst. Of Mental Health:

  • Panic disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder and Phobias

Physical Symptoms

  • Fast heart beat
  • Chest or stomach pain
  • Breathing problems
  • Weakness, nausea
  • Sweating
  • Hot, cold chills
  • Tingly or numb hands

Panic attacks can happen anytime without warning. You may live in fear of another attack, an avoid places where you have had an attack before. This may also cause a person not to leave their home.

U.S. National Library of Medicine

Normal Behavior
Abnormal Behavior
Reaching out for help
sleep difficulties
Problems eating-disorder
family and friends
suicidal thoughts or feelings
not interested on normal activities
withdrawal from family and friends
Explaining death to a child
Explaining death to a child | Source

Returning to school

When returning to school it would be helpful to speak with your child's teacher ahead of time. This will allow the teacher to schedule appointments with a counselor if needed.

It was very helpful for me to speak with my son's teacher and letting her know how he was dealing with the death in our family. It's important that you explain to your children that its alright to cry or feel sad. As a family, we will go through the healing process together.

NIMH Children and Mental Health

Age group Chart for Children & Concepts of Grief

Discussing the concept of death depends on the age of the child (conducted data

Age 0-2 years

  • Sees death as separation or abandoment
  • Has no cognitive understanding of death
  • Feels despair from disruption of caretaking
  • More crying than normal

Age 2-6 years

  • Often believes that death is reversible, temporary
  • May perceive death as a punishment
  • Engages in magical thinking that wishes come true
  • May feel guilt or sadness for negative feelings towards the person who died

Age 6-11years

  • Shows gradual understanding of irreversibility to comprehend cause and effect relationship

Age 11 years or older

  • Understands that death is irreversible, universal, and inevitable
  • Has abstract and philosophical thinking

Families should know, that showing your feelings of shock, sadness, guilt, and anger are normal and helpful.

Somebody should tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit, every minute of everyday. Do it ! I say. What ever you want to do, do it now! There are only so many tomorrows.

— Pope Paul lV, Italian Pope (1897-1978)


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    • Carol McCullough profile image

      Success In Life 3 years ago from U.S.

      Death can be a very difficult topic for many families, at that time in your life you needed support and understanding. Hopefully, this article and many sources can help open that door to communication.

      Thank you, Bill

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Very useful and helpful information. I needed help when my dad died when I was nineteen, but there was no help forthcoming. Death can be devastating for the living, and suggestions like these go a long way towards lessening the blow.

    • Carol McCullough profile image

      Success In Life 3 years ago from U.S.

      Hi MsDora, I tried to speak from my heart to help families heal. Thank you for your encouragement.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Carol, you tackled an important subject and gave good suggestions. Going through the grieving and healing process together as a family is very important. Thanks for your article.

    • Carol McCullough profile image

      Success In Life 3 years ago from U.S.

      To, JPCMC, I also wanted to say I'm so glad that your daughter is feeling better about the subject of death, and understanding more each day. Thank you for sharing

    • Carol McCullough profile image

      Success In Life 3 years ago from U.S.

      I know it was hard at such a young age to understand the passing of a sibling. I was moved to write this hub after a recent death in my family, that I had to explain to my child. Thank you for your support

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      When my brother passed away when I was a teenager, I had younger brothers and sisters. It was very hard for them to understand why he did not come home. My parents explained to them that he had gone to live with God, but that did not suffice their curiosity. The suggestions listed here are relevant. Children need death explained in a way that fits their cognitive level of understanding.

    • Carol McCullough profile image

      Success In Life 3 years ago from U.S.

      Oh, bless her heart

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 3 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      My daughter seems to be fascinated with death these couple of weeks. When we do not see each other for a couple of hours she'd say she misses us and thought we were dead. And then she'd embrace us. i suppose it is her way of dealing with separation. We have to explain to her about death and dying. I(t is quite difficult but I think we are making more sense to her now.