How to Talk to Young Children about the Concept of Death

Father talking about death with daughterDeath tends to surprise us even though it is a fact of life. Tough questions can leave you wondering how to talk to your young child about the greater concepts of death and dying. Perhaps you recently lost a family pet? Maybe a family member is terminally ill and you’ve been spending time caring for them? Often enough, your little one might just unexpectedly bring up the topic completely out of the blue. No matter what prompted the inquiry, here are a few important points to keep in mind when discussing this complex topic with young children.


Kids already have a (limited) understanding of death

It may surprise you but most preschoolers already have some concept of death, even if the subject hasn’t been directly broached. They get hints of it from fairy tales, movies and seeing dead animals and insects in their backyards or playgrounds. However, this understanding is limited. Young children typically see death as something reversible, temporary and applicable only to a select few. It can be very difficult for young children to comprehend that death is permanent and unchangeable.


Keep it brief and relay the facts

When discussing death with young children, be succinct and clear. Stick to the simple facts and address the physical realities involved. You could say something like “death means that the body stops working and when someone dies, they can no longer run, eat, breathe or talk.” This simple type of explanation works best for preschoolers.


It’s best to avoid euphemisms

We have a lot of metaphorical language that we use when discussing death. Phrases like “passed away,” “resting in peace” and “eternal slumber” are frequently uttered without a second thought. But for small children, such language can be very confusing. All too often, young minds take such words literally, which can lead to misunderstandings. It’s best to use straightforward language instead.


Choose your words carefully when discussing God and heaven

The parlance within many faiths is embedded with nuances that may also be confusing for young children. Even something as simple as saying “Fido is in heaven now” can leave your child with the impression that their recently deceased pooch is only temporarily elsewhere. Consider carefully how you express your religious sentiments about dying.


Mother and father talking to a daughter about the passing of a family memberMany short conversations

One of the most useful things to remember when addressing any important topic with your young child is that the conversation will need to be brief but repeated many times. Short bursts of information that are retold and elaborated upon over time allow developing minds the opportunity to process at the rate they can handle. Let your little one take the lead, and answer questions when they naturally arise.


When a death occurs in the family

Always share information of a family member’s passing with your children. If you’re distressed, they’ll likely pick up on it anyway, and understanding why you’re sad will be reassuring. In most cases, it’s best to invite children to memorials or funeral services. This allows them to have their own opportunity to say goodbye.


Meaningful goodbyes

Death isn’t easy, but when a passing occurs in your family, Mount Pleasant Group is here to help you give a loving farewell. Contact us to inquire about our funeral homes in Markham, Toronto and elsewhere in the GTA.

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