How to talk to children about death

How to Talk to Children about Death - Psychology, Child and Society, Interesting

"Mom, will I ever die?". This question always comes at the wrong time. You look like you just froze for a second. And inside there are a lot of panicked thoughts that stumble over each other. How can I simply answer a difficult question? How to teach a child not to be afraid of what you are afraid of? And is it worth protecting a child from such a topic as death? How to explain and tell a child about death? All the answers are in the article.Why is it important

The child asks you a specific question about death.

It doesn't matter if he is interested purely hypothetically or in connection with a specific event in the family. And you, in response, you start to mumble something unintelligible or dismiss the child with the universal answer "You will grow up - you will find out". Negative attitudes begin to form in the baby's head:

  • Parents don't answer because they don't know anything themselves. How so, they are adults!
  • The parents themselves are afraid, then what should I do? I can't do it at all! After all, I am small and helpless...
  • Death is something scary, disturbing and attractive at the same time, which no one wants to talk about. No one will help me!
  • And what if they die too, and I'm left alone...

Imagine a delicate flower that grows in sterile greenhouse conditions. And suddenly the glass cap breaks, and the surrounding world falls on the plant from all sides. Can the flower survive? Read also: How to talk to children about drugs

This is what happens to the psyche of a child who is protected from all shocks. One day he will still have to face the realities of life, and this meeting will be devastating for him. 

Therefore, talking about unpleasant and difficult things is not only necessary, but also very important. If the child does not hear a clear and unambiguous answer from you, he will start looking for a solution on his own. And then he can already dream up anything. Your persistent unwillingness to talk about death can also provoke a child to develop various phobias. 

When to startBe prepared to answer questions honestly and directly when they arise.

Your child may ask about death when he encounters this phenomenon by accident. The reason will be a plot in a cartoon or a book, a conversation of peers or adult strangers. In this case, the child will be interested in death as an abstract phenomenon, and it will be easier to answer his questions.

Another situation is the death of a loved one. For example, how to explain to a child that his mother died? You have not yet coped with grief yourself and you want to isolate the child from it out of habit. You shouldn't do that. The child understands that something is happening around, a loved one is no longer around, and his familiar world is collapsing. Ignorance and misunderstanding of the situation is a fertile ground for additional fears and worries.

How to explainDeath as a phenomenon

Children learn about the world around them.

And along with the questions from the category "Why is the water wet?" sometimes they ask completely unexpected questions: 

  • Why do old people die?
  • How long will the hamster live?
  • Isn't it cold for a person underground?
  • Why go to the cemetery?

Don't laugh, don't be surprised, and don't show confusion. Even if the child's interest seems strange or inappropriate to you, try to answer as sincerely as possible. Sometimes children's questions can stump any adult. If you find it difficult to answer, just admit it. Give your child time to think about new information. Ask if he understood you correctly. And promise that you will answer all new questions today, tomorrow and at any time when they appear. 

Loss of a loved oneChildren of different ages perceive death differently.

But how, for example, to explain to a child that dad died? There are universal rules that will be useful to you in any case:

  • choose a quiet, quiet place to talk, where no one will disturb you. At the same time, keep in mind that psychologists do not recommend talking about such topics in the nursery;
  • establish close tactile contact: put the child in your arms, hug, pat on the head, take your hand. Let him feel your support;
  • tell the sad news in simple words, avoid obscure comparisons or ornate phrases;
  • try to speak in a calm tone, without tension or strain. You can cry with the child, but it is unacceptable to slip into hysteria or lamentation. If you don't feel strong enough for a difficult conversation, ask someone from your family to do it for you;
  • be prepared for any reaction of the child: silence, fear, anger, tears, new questions ... Give him the opportunity to show these emotions and live his grief;
  • support the child. Say that you understand that you cannot replace a deceased person, but you are ready to help at any moment. 

How to talk to a child about deathSo, we take these rules as a basis and adjust them according to the age of the child. From 3 to 6 years old.

At this age, children still do not understand that death is irreversible. Often they perceive it as a temporary separation. And parents, by mistake, readily support and develop this misconception. 

Children believe in the power of their negative thoughts or the phrase "I hate you! I don't want to see you!". If a loved one died soon after, the child often considers himself the culprit of what happened. The guilt complex adds to the tragedy of an already painful situation.

What to do: 

  1. Explain to the child in simple words what happened. Avoid explanations such as: fell asleep and did not wake up, left for a long time, will return someday, etc. (why not do this, we'll talk later). 
  2. Insist that no one is to blame for the death. 
  3. With the loss of a loved one, the child has an acute feeling of loneliness and emptiness. Think about how you can fill it out and suggest specific actions. For example, take care of your grandmother's kindergarten, design an album with photos of your mother together, or continue to collect your brother's collection.
  4. If you see that the child has withdrawn into himself and does not make contact, invite him to draw what he feels. This method will help the child to relieve internal tension.

If you did not immediately inform your child about the death of a dear person, do it soon. Start a conversation after his next question about the deceased and act according to the rules.

From 6 to 10 years. Children are already beginning to realize death as an irreversible process. However, it is most often perceived as an abstract evil spirit that mainly takes the elderly. At this age, death is not associated with peers or parents and can cause a real shock due to its suddenness.

Don't wait for the child to face death in real life. Don't shield him from movies and books with an unhappy ending. Give him the opportunity to train his emotions on a fictional plot and characters. 

Teens. At the age of 10 years and older, adolescents already understand the nature and consequences of death. However, due to the crisis period of growing up, death has a certain aura of mystery and attractiveness for them. No wonder, despite prohibitions and warnings, more and more teenagers are being drawn into "death groups" on social networks.

"Why exactly did he die in this accident? It's not fair! Is death a punishment for something? Why did God allow this to happen?" 

Teenagers are looking for answers to these and other questions. Try to explain that death does not choose victims. Grief comes to both bad and good people, and no one is to blame for what happened. If you have clear religious beliefs, answer the questions according to your beliefs. 

Carefully monitor the mental state of the teenager. In the transition age, the pain of losing a loved one is experienced especially strongly. If a teenager is immersed in himself, is not interested in anything and does not show emotions, talk more, spend time together. So you will find out what is really in his soul. If necessary, seek help from a psychologist.What not to sayHow to talk to a child about death

Often adults, fearing a child's tantrum or other reaction, delay this difficult moment as much as possible.

They prefer to keep silent about the death of a loved one or to clothe the truth incomprehensible to the child in familiar images. But this erroneous path can lead to sad consequences. For example:

  1. "Dad fell asleep and didn't wake up anymore." The main rule is never associate death with sleep in the concept of a child. He will be afraid to sleep or start having disturbing dreams. If the child himself believes that death is like a dream, explain the difference.
  2. "Mom left us forever." The child will make erroneous conclusions and will grow up thinking that mom is bad because she left him, or he is bad himself, since mom left.
  3. "Grandma got sick and died." This way you will firmly link illness and death in the child's mind. Even if a relative has died after a long illness, explain that not all diseases are fatal and most often a person recovers. Give an example when the child was ill and recovered.
  4. "Grandpa went on a trip, but he will definitely come back someday." No matter how hard it is for you, do not give your child vain hope. In addition, after such a formulation, the child will be afraid to let you go on trips.
  5. "You're too young to understand." Try to explain it in a language that is accessible to the child. If you don't know something, it's better to say so, and promise to answer his question a little later.

Other nuancesWhat will happen then?

"What happens after death?" — perhaps the child will ask such a question.

Don't go into physical and medical details, he doesn't need to know about it at all. Honestly answer that the body is buried in the ground or burned, in accordance with the custom or decision of the deceased.    

Explain that a person has not only a body, but also a soul that lives forever. Tell us about it in the religious aspect that your family adheres to. But emphasize that even after death, a person remains alive in the hearts of people who love and remember him.

Is it worth taking a child to a funeralPsychologists do not give an unambiguous answer to this question.

Before taking a child to the funeral of a loved one, pay attention to the following factors:

  • the age and fitness of the child. A very young child does not realize the meaning of what is happening, but may be afraid of the reaction of people around him. It is worth talking to an older child in advance, explaining to him the meaning of this rite and being ready for any reaction on his part; 
  • the child's desire. Do not insist on his participation in the farewell ceremony if he is categorically against it;
  • the condition of the child. He's very vulnerable right now. It is not necessary to take a child to a funeral if he is constantly crying and easily falls into hysterics. It's better to stay at home in a calm atmosphere with someone from the family;
  • your own condition. Try to soberly assess your capabilities. If you yourself are unstable and need support, how can you pay attention to the feelings of the child?

Any of these factors can aggravate the condition and harm the child's health. It will be better to visit the cemetery together some time after the funeral, when both you and the child will calm down a little.


Don't be afraid of questions about death. The child's questions about difficult things are another reason to become more conscious parents. This is an opportunity to sort out your ideas about death and experience your own traumatic experience. Be honest and consistent in your answers. And most importantly — help the child to live grief on an equal footing with everyone. After all, "the shared joy doubles, and the shared grief becomes less than half." April 28, 2020 2022-11-27 2020-04-28 Rate the article on a 5-point scale Did you like the article?

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