Talking with children about death and bereavement
We can’t protect children from death. All children will experience death and bereavement at some point in their lives.
We would like to encourage all parents to talk with their children, no matter how old they are, about death and bereavement – as part of normal life.
There are plenty of opportunities to do so:
If you have pets, talk with your children about the lifespan of the pet that they have, and prepare them that one day their pet will die.
Here is a video with an explanation of what ‘dead’ means by a six year old child: https://youtu.be/GcXx752tT6o
Talk about dying as part of normal lifecycles, flowers are wilting, leaves are falling.
Children, especially young children, are very curious. They might find dead animals and are interested in them. Join them, talk with them: How do you know the bird is dead? Do you know what happens after they die? It is a great opportunity to talk about death.
Let children attend funerals, if they want to go. Explain what will happen at the funeral.
As children get older, they will develop their understanding of death:
Young children will not understand that death is permanent, simple language is really important.
As they get a little older they will learn that old people die. This is the time for awkard questions: ‘Granny, you are very old, are you going to die soon?’
Children then start to realise that they too, when they are old, will die. And their parents, and other family members. Sometimes children might worry about death.
During their teenage years, young people will reflect on death, whilst their general understanding will be similar to that of adults (e.g. they realise that you can die at any age), they still don’t quite realise that it could happen to someone they care about. When they experience death, it will often trigger questions about the meaning of life.