Talking to a child about death can be difficult, you might be worried about what to say, how much they will understand or how they will react. It is important to honest and open when answering questions, they may ask. What children imagine can be far worse. Adults often want to protect young people by not telling them what’s going on. But children may notice that something’s wrong and might feel anxious and confused. They might prefer to know, even if it’s sad, rather than trying to cope with not knowing.
Talking to a child about death can help them feel better supported and more secure. They may have fears or questions that they’re worried about talking to you about. Talking about death might make them feel more comfortable to ask these questions, and they might feel more able to talk about their feelings. If they see adults showing their feelings, they may feel more willing to open up about their own.
If they’re not told about the person’s death, they may start to make up their own explanation of why the person isn’t around anymore. Not knowing the cause of the person’s death might make them feel guilty that they somehow caused it. They may also start to worry that they could ‘catch’ the illness, if they don’t have enough information about it. It is important to reassure them this is not the case.
Children need to understand and know what happened to the person who has died. Use simple and clear language which is appropriate for their age group. It may be easier to give information in small amounts, allowing them to understand without becoming overwhelmed.
Try to avoid use euphemisms, such as the person has ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘gone away’. They may make the child frightened to go to sleep or worry when you leave the house you might not come back.
Allow children to ask questions, be prepared for a child to be curious. You may find that they ask the same question time and time again. This may be distressing but it is part of their need for reassurance and helps them process information, in their own way. Allow them to talk about the person.
There are many organisations who have excellent guides to help you.
Here are some useful links to websites.