Explaining death and dying to children

Kids and teens really appreciate it when adults are truthful, especially when discussing topics like death and grief. If we’re not honest with them, their imaginations might come up with scarier ideas to fill in the blanks.

Providing a basic biological explanation of death can be beneficial: the heart ceases to beat, the lungs fail to function, and the brain stops working. Describing the body as an empty shell can aid in grasping that the individual is no longer alive in the way they were known.

If the family has any beliefs, these can be shared as well. It may be comforting to explain that after someone passes away, they no longer experience sensations like hot or cold, hunger or thirst, and they are free from pain.

It’s crucial for them to realise that the person will not return to life, despite our deepest desires for it to happen.

Using phrases like ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘passed away’ or words like ‘gone’ or ‘lost’ may seem more gentle, but they can be misleading and cause confusion.

For example, when we tell children to ‘find’ something they have ‘lost’, they may continue searching for the person who has passed away.

Similarly, if we say someone has ‘gone to sleep’, children may start associating sleep with death, leading to bedtime anxieties.

Discussing the topic of death often stirs up strong emotions. Although it may be challenging, acknowledging these emotions and having open conversations about death and grief can foster trust between children, young people, and the adults in their lives.

Moreover, it will empower them to ask questions, voice concerns, and express their emotions freely.

Kids pick up on how adults react, so when you feel emotional, it’s good to recognize your feelings and let them know you’ll be fine soon. This way, they’ll learn it’s okay to share their emotions too.