In an ideal world, children wouldn’t need to know anything about death. Sadly, it is a part of life and it’s something that some children will face earlier than you would want. Whether it’s a grandparent or a parent who has passed, or someone their age, it can be difficult to explain the concept of death to a small child. With that in mind, here are some tips on how to discuss it with your child.
Very small children will notice that the people around them are sad and may try to comfort you. They’re too small to understand the concept of death, but it’s a good idea to begin using the correct words with them. Avoid saying that someone has “gone to sleep” or similar. This can create fear of falling asleep in case they die later on in life.
At this age, most children feel that death is reversible and may not understand that their loved one will not return. This can prompt frequent questions of “When will _____ come back?”
It’s important to explain very clearly to pre-schoolers, as they tend to invent their own stories about what has happened. They may take time to process the entire idea and this can mean they’ll play and be fine for a while, then come and ask you more questions.
When explaining to children at this age, it’s best to keep it simple and tell them when you’re in a quiet area with no distractions. Some children will feel the loss harder than others, but they all process things over time.
This age group, 6-12 years old, can understand the concept of death and will often struggle with fear that their entire family will pass on or that something may happen to them. Children this age often come to the realisation that they are mortal and that their parents are not invincible.
You’ll have many more questions from this age group. They will likely want to know details and may come up with some odd questions as they struggle to understand how death affects their lives and their world. They know that it’s permanent, but until now, will probably have felt that it only happens to other people and not them.
Giving the Explanation
Keep it simple as you explain what is going on. You can point out that everything that has life will die at some point and that this is the end of living. Explain that when someone has died, their body has stopped functioning and they no longer need to breathe, eat, drink, etc. It’s not sleeping, it’s forever. This can feel harsh, but it’s also necessary to prevent children from believing someone will return.
Finally, you can explain what happens after death and how we say goodbye at the funeral and wake. You may wish to give your children the choice of whether to attend a funeral, depending on how close they were to the person who has passed.
If you’re planning a funeral, contact Callum Roberston Funeral Directors for more information on how we can help.