How to Explain the Concept of Death to Children

Friday, December 2, 2016
Mourning a loved one is difficult for adults, but explaining the concept to children can add additional stress and worry. Children do not really understand what death means, or may lack awareness of the topics. Here are some ways to explain death to children without overwhelming them.

Keep it Simple

To keep the conversation about death light, avoid using scary terms. Instead, turn to nature for age-appropriate examples. Use the seasons or plants as metaphors to make the concept understandable.

Be open, and encourage your child to ask questions. You may even have a discussion with your child about what they think happens after death or how they feel about the loss of a loved one.

Avoid the Sleep Metaphor

While saying "They went to sleep" is a natural way that adults often talk about death of animals, this concept can confuse children. Avoid the temptation to use terms like "sleep" or "resting" when discussing death, as this can have the unintended consequence of making your child afraid of sleep.

Don't Be Afraid to Grieve

After a loss, you may feel like you cannot show your own sadness. However, staying "as strong as possible" to spare the kids only harms you. By grieving in front of your children, you can teach them how to express their feelings. Importantly, you remain honest with yourself about how you feel, and express your feelings so you can support your children. The experience of sharing grief may even bring you closer to your child as you can both support one another during this difficult experience.

It's alright that you don't have all the answers. What matters is having an open, honest conversation with your child that allows you to grieve the loss and move forward.

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