Talking to Children about Death

This article was written by LifeAdmin, on August 24, 2017

After the passing of a loved one, you may have to face explaining some difficult things to a child in your life. Talking to children about death is a daunting reality that many of us face in the wake of a disaster. Even if the passing is not unexpected, children still may not understand what is happening or what part they play in all of this.

Children ages 3-5

It’s important to remember how perceptive children are, even those younger than 3 years. They may not know anything about the situation you are dealing with, but they can sense that something huge has shaken you. Young children may act out for seemingly no reason when a death affects those around them. It’s better to address the situation head on than deal with misbehavior through punishment that isn’t rightfully deserved. Children as young as 3 can understand some elements of what it means to die. If you think they will be able to take no part in the pain your family is feeling, you are wrong. Tell the truth of what happened, using words they need to learn like “death” and “died”. Explain that loved ones around them are feeling sad, and may need happy thoughts or warm hugs to help them. Do not hint to the fact that the deceased may or may not return, be straight with them from the beginning to avoid confusion. The best thing you can do with 3-5 year olds is include them.

Children ages 6-9

At this pivotal age, most children have already considered death, what it would feel like, and what happens after death. Though their concepts of death may be skewed, ask your middle-aged children what they think is happening. Listen to their concerns and their ideas about death. Allow them to form their own opinions, and gently correct their thinking and answer their questions. Be prepared for a range of emotions from children ages 6-9. Some kids view death as frightening, looming, overwhelming, while others may seem not to care at all. Even if your child seems not to be aware of the situation, you can be sure that they are listening closely to everything you say about the deceased and they are coming to their own conclusions. Dispel misinterpretations and imaginative theories by being direct, honest, and emotional with your children.

Children ages 10-13

Children ages 10-13 are right in the transition between childhood and teenaged years. Their emotions are extreme and unexplainable to them. They feel everything before they think about it. When speaking to older children about death, start the conversation with how you are feeling. Be honest about the range of emotions that you have gone through, and confide in them as you would a friend. Trust them to understand the pain you feel, and then allow them to share their emotions with you in return. In traumatic situations, older children can react in unexpectedly mature ways. Embrace what comes natural to them and never insinuate that their feelings are the wrong feelings.

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