CENTERS’ PIECE: How to talk about death with kidsAngie Morris joined Centers in 2013. Angie is Centers bilingual therapist and she enjoys working with young children and adolescents.

Death is inevitable. Occasionally, parents and caregivers ask how to talk about this subject to children. Many parents want to protect their child from this difficult topic, which is not easy to broach. When talking to your little ones, keep these points in mind.
Do not ignore or dodge their questions. Whether your child has lost a loved one or not, they may ask questions about death. Children are curious. While watching movies, watching television, or reading books, children will come across the subject of death many times. It may be in these curious, less emotional times that you can lay the groundwork about death. This foundation can help your child cope when he or she does lose someone close to them.
Give short, simple answers. Young children cannot handle too much information at one time. It is easier to talk about death in a physical manner. For example saying, “Aunt Susie has died, and her body has stopped working. She can’t walk or run, eat or sleep, and she doesn’t feel any pain.” This allows the child to see that death is different than being alive, and that the deceased person is not coming back.
Avoid euphemisms. “He is now sleeping.” “He is resting in peace.” “He is no longer with us.” Children have such concrete thoughts that these phrases are confusing to them. They will think, “When is he going to wake up?” Where did they go and when are they coming back? Or even worse, your child may become afraid to go to sleep or leave you because then they may “die” as well. Again using short, honest lingo is best.
Express your emotions. Share your emotions and your own grief with your child. Explain how adults get sad and cry sometimes. Allow them to see that grieving is part of healing. Do not grieve in excess and frighten your child, but allow your child to see that you are sad and miss whoever passed away. Children are keen on mood changes and will feel that something is wrong if you are trying to hide your pain.
Prepare for several reactions. There is no way to tell how a child will react to death. For some children, their emotions may be delayed by an inability to comprehend death. Eventually, those children will likely ask questions and become emotional. Other children will feel guilt or anger. Many children will begin to misbehave. Talk to your child and reassure them that it is not their fault and that you are there for them.
Using this brief guide may equip you with your ability to discuss death with your child. If your child is having a hard time coping with the death of a friend or loved one, seeking help from a professional may be needed.