How To Talk To Kids About Death

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It’s never the easiest conversation, but it has to be done

How do you talk about death to a child — especially a toddler? It’s a touchy, unpleasant subject but it has to be done. As parents, we do our best to shield our kids from pain and hurt, but unfortunately, this is one painful conversation that needs to be had.

No thanks to the pandemic, there’s been a lot of talk about death. And kids are bound to ask questions after facing a death — whether its in the family, a beloved pet, hearing about a friend or their family, or hearing about it on the news.

But before you break the bad news about Goldie the goldfish, you’ll need to have a proper, age-appropriate response. Here’s how to have the talk about “death” with kids:

How to explain death to your kids

1. Consider their ages

Toddler-aged kids may find it more difficult to grasp the concept of death. They often watch shows or read about characters that come back to life after being totally destroyed. At five, they begin to come to terms with the finality of death but don’t necessarily understand it. It’s only at ages nine and above where they truly understand the meaning of death.

2. Be straightforward when talking about death to kids

When talking to younger kids about death, it’s important to use the right words: “dead”, “death”, “died”, in place of using euphemisms. Just like they don’t understand sarcasm, they won’t understand your words. Most important of all, you should avoid lying at all costs. Not only will it confuse them, it might also lead to other issues. Choose your words carefully!

3. Be mindful about your actions and behavior around your kids

During stressful, confusing times kids always look to their parents and adults for support and reassurance. While it might be difficult to contain your grief at times, take the time to explain why you are reacting that way — even to your youngest child. They can read your body language too, you know!

4. Be that support system they need when dealing with death

More than ever, kids will need their parents’ comfort, especially if they’ve experienced death. Be the person your kids can talk to about death, and hug when they need a good cry. Showing them you understand their feelings could go a long way. Most importantly, talk to them about the value of their feelings.

With a healthy dose of empathy, a whole lotta hugs, and understanding, it will be easier for kids to process and understand death. If you choose to tie in your religious beliefs, it’s totally up to you — whatever works! What’s important is that you and your family heal together. It will do everyone some good.

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