Image of dad consoling his son

Helping you talk to children about death

In collaboration with Maria Syred, Social Worker at St Barnabas House.

Talking to children about death is difficult. Where do you start? Will they understand? How will they react? What questions will they ask?

Even if they haven’t lost someone close to them before, children come across death all the time. Whether they kill the baddies in video games, hear about a stranger on the news or see a dead bird in the garden. They’re curious and often more open to talking about death than we realise – what they need is help from adults to try to make sense of it.

Children may already have fears or questions that they’re worried about bringing up, so speaking openly and honestly about death will make them feel more supported and prepared to talk about their feelings.

Here are some tips that might help you talk to children about death:

Use simple language

You may find using the words ‘death’ and ‘dying’ uncomfortable but using phrases such as ‘gone to sleep’ or ‘lost their battle’ encourages children to make up their own explanation of what happened and may leave them anxious about going to sleep or catching an illness.

Show your emotions

Children are likely to look to you for cues on how to behave. By showing your emotions, they’ll learn that it’s okay to be sad, angry, or shocked. It’s likely that you’ll talk to them about death for days, weeks, and months to come, and through this process they’ll also learn that it’s ok to feel different emotions at different times.

Be there to listen

Children often find it difficult to express their emotions and will react in different ways. Some children might like to talk while others might stay quiet. Stay with your child to offer a listening ear and comfort them.

Say ‘I don’t know’

Be prepared for children to ask questions that you don’t know the answer to, it’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know’.

Talk to people around them

It’s important to inform your child’s school and other settings about the bereavement to make sure they get all the support they need.

Ask for help

Talking about death with a child is a difficult conversation to have. If at any point you feel overwhelmed, remember you’re not alone. Friends, family, healthcare professionals and your child’s school will be able to help.

Resources to help you discuss dying

We’ve created a Feelings Activity Book for you to help and encourage children to have conversations around their feelings. If you’re already known to the hospice, our bereavement team is here to support you, but if you are not known to the hospice, please take a look at the following resources:

 

External resources
  • The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside and Frank Rodgers
  • Michael Rosen’s Sad book by Michael Rosen
  • When Dinosaurs Die by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
  • The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
  • Lovely Old Roly by Michael Rosen
  • Dear Grandma Bunny by Dick Bruna

Films are a gentle way to start conversations around difficult topics, some recommendations include:

  • The Lion King – Disney
  • Coco – Disney
  • UP – Disney Pixar
  • A Monster Calls – J.A. Bayona
  • Big Hero 6 – Disney

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