Talking to your children about death

Life’s various transitions are always difficult to explain to children. From talks about birds and the bees to explaining why they won’t ever see a family member again, it is essential that parents become more skillful in tackling the topic of death to young ones. We acknowledge that it is a complicated topic, but one can be tactful about it. It can happen suddenly, or it could be as a result of a long-term illness, but having a conversation with your child earlier on in life cushions the impact that it would have on them should it happen.

Be honest

With some topics in life, there is no more natural way of explaining it than being straightforward. Should a loved one (or someone familiar to the child) happen, be honest with your emotions and mindset. Be however mindful of the impact it could have on a child. That means to explain why you’re crying, who certain players like the morgue attendant or a personal lawyer injury are, or your emotional state without having to burden them with the same. Doing that demonstrates to children earlier on in life to develop sympathy for those around them who lose loved ones or to even mourn the death of someone in the family. Be mindful of using the actual words and not metaphors as they could further confuse them.

Know how to handle the trauma

Just as we all react to the death of a loved one differently, be ready to handle their reaction. You cannot predict or control how they will get impacted by the information and you, therefore, ought to be mindful of how you handle their expressions. Given the heaviness the topic brings with it, it is likely that they will experience some form of trauma. Accord them the space they need to process their emotions. Have a conversation with them after when they are calm. It is then you can have an honest conversation about how they handled the information and also clarify any misconceptions. It is likely that you won’t have all the answers; become okay with saying that you don’t know.

Timing is important

Some parents fail to explain the death of someone’s death that is close to the child, something that proves to be more harmful than helpful. One might reason that they are protecting a child from painful emotions. What happens instead is that you fail to give the child the opportunity to grieve with everyone else. More often than not, when in later years the child comes to develop an understanding of death, they become resentful to those around them and have delayed grieving.


Be mindful to keep the tender emotions of a child in mind. In the same way that you’d want someone to ease you into the information about the death of a loved one, do the same for them. Don’t do it in one fell swoop as you might permanently traumatize a child.