Death is a part of life we all learn about at some point. The passing of a loved one can be a scary and uncertain time for everyone – especially children.
Whether it’s sudden or expected, it’s never easy to talk about death, and it can be hard to know where to start when breaking the news to kids.
We hope this advice helps you have this tough conversation with your child.
Use simple language
Use age-appropriate and clear language when talking about death. Using complicated metaphors or vague phrases like “no longer with us” and “in a better place” can be confusing for kids.
Keep it simple and clear, and don’t dance around the word “death” or “died”. Telling the truth as early as possible is best to help your child make sense of what’s happened.
Talk about your feelings
Being open and honest about how you feel can help your child accept their own emotions as ‘normal’. Don’t be afraid to let your child see you cry and tell them you feel sad, angry or confused. You might even like to print out a feelings chart to help them name and understand their emotions.
Letting your child see how you cope with big feelings can help them deal with their own.
Listen and offer comfort
Encourage your child to ask any questions, and check in regularly to see how they’re going. Accept and normalise your child’s emotional responses, and let them know you’re always there if they need to talk.
It can also help to let other adults in their life know what’s happened, such as their teacher or friends’ parents. This way, they can keep an eye out for any behaviour that may be concerning.
We list some common signs of anxiety in children in this blog post.
Tell them what to expect
Unpredictability can be a serious stressor for children. It can help to give them a heads up of what’s to come following the death of a loved one.
For example, you might explain what happens at a funeral and mention general grieving processes such as people saying sorry and hugging a lot. Tell them that it’s normal to miss that person and for sad feelings to come and go for a long time.
If you or your child need some extra support coping after the death of a loved one, talking to a counsellor can help. You can learn about our counselling services here, or call 1300 364 277 to book an appointment in person, over the phone, or via Zoom video.