How to Talk to Kids about Death

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Dr. Corinne Masur
People tell me my posts are too long.
So, here’s a short one on a difficult subject:
  1. Don’t hesitate to talk to your child about death.
  2. Bring the subject up in casual conversation.
  3. Answer ANY questions your child asks you about death in a factual way.  Young children, especially, really want to know what happens when someone or something dies.  Just tell them, “The person stops breathing, they can’t eat anymore, they can’t think anymore, they can’t move anymore.”  This is a good explanation for a 2-4 year old.
  4. Whether you bring up heaven or an afterlife should be guided by your own beliefs.
  5. Don’t ever tell your child that death is like sleep.  This can provoke a fear of sleep and of bedtime.
  6. For children of any age, don’t shy away from looking at dead bugs or dead animals with them.  Talk about what’s happened and how they feel about it.
  7. When a relative dies, don’t hesitate to take your child to the funeral. But first, explain what a funeral is and ask them if they would like to go. If they go, be open to taking them out for a walk during the service if they ask to leave or if they seem upset. Talk to them about the sad feelings that everyone has when someone dies.
Reading books with children about death BEFORE they experience the death of a loved one is a good idea.  Two good books for young children are: The Tenth Good Thing About Barney and Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs.

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