Sometimes difficult questions can take parents by surprise so it’s a good idea to plan in advance, especially when the questions are about death. It is critical not to avoid or try to brush off the questions as that may cause confusion and perhaps even fear if children pick up your discomfort on the subject.
Stay Child Centered
It is very important to discuss death and dying at the child’s level of understanding. Talking in abstract terms or using complicated phrases about death may only cause confusion. This doesn’t mean that spiritual or religious beliefs should be omitted; only that they should be communicated at an appropriate level that your child can understand.
Be careful when using terms such as “passed on” or “lost” as these vague descriptions don’t make sense to children. “Sleeping” is a term that should be avoided. Instead, be honest while still being compassionate and understanding. Children need a clear description that makes sense to them. Even younger children can understand that a body can stop working when a person is in an accident or is elderly. Often this type of honest, clear and simple explanation is enough for a youngster.
Talk About Real World Examples
It is important, especially with younger children, to use simple examples and try not to include too many concepts at one time. It is important for children to understand that death is a normal part of life without stressing the mortality of the child or of you as the parent. It is also important to remember that younger children, especially those under the age of 10, may see death as reversible.
It is perfectly normal and expected that children may ask about a pet, family member or loved one’s death repeatedly. Be patient and provide a consistent answer that provides the information the child is seeking. Talking to a counselor or reading a book about death that is at an appropriate level for the child’s age can help you to start the conversation and will allow children to ask the questions they may be worrying about.