There comes a time when every parents needs to explain death to their child. School age children will start to learn about death and what happens to people when they die. The comprehension of the finality of death comes later. Hopefully this does not happen in your family, but there may come a time when you are faced with the hardship of telling your child that a close family member has died. Below are some ways to help you talk to your child about death.
Be honest about what happened. If a close family member has passed away, such as a parent, then it is important that you tell your child that their parent has died. It is not helpful to try to keep them from knowing. Eventually they will find out and then they will feel betrayed that you tried to keep this secret. As your child gets older, they may resent you for not telling them the truth. Kids needs to know the facts just as much as adults do.
But what if the death was violent, a suicide, an overdose, etc?
I would say use your judgement. You do not need to give ALL of the facts right away. Soon after you find out about the death, you want to tell your child about it. If you feel the details of how the person died are something that your child will not be able to handle at this time then do not share all of those details yet. You will need to share the details at some point in the future. But for now, you can only share the fact that this person passed away. Your child may have some questions about when and where. I suggest you answer as many of these questions as honestly and as best as you can.
Kids usually want to know that they’re safe. When they find out about death, they realize that their life could also be in jeopardy. Take the time to explain to your child that they are safe. You also may need to ensure that you are also safe to show you are not in danger.
don’t make false promises
When talking about your safety and your child’s safety, make sure not to give false promises. You don’t want to say that you, another family member, or even your child will never die. Instead, ensure that you are all safe and okay in this moment.
Prepare your child what to expect
Don’t arrive to a funeral or any service without preparing your child of exactly what to expect. You want to sit down with your child and describe what they will see, hear, smell, etc. You also want to prepare your child about how they may feel when they are there. Another thing you can prepare is how you yourself and other friends and family may be visibly upset. As best as you can, walk through the upcoming days and any funeral or service you will be attending together. Another important thing to prepare your child for is how they may feel in the upcoming days.
Don’t exclude your child
Don’t exclude your child if they want to be included in something that would allow them to be apart of the ceremony or if they want to say goodbye to the person who died.
It is okay if your child seems indifferent
Most young children are not able to comprehend the finality of death. In development, children can seem selfish but that is a normal stage. If your child seems indifferent about the death, give them space to do what they want. If they want to play alone, go outside, or play with friends that is okay. Each child feels differently so expect that your child may seem indifferent or something unexpected. This is fine for your child to feel this way. Just allow them to feel whatever they’re feeling and try to support them as needed.
make sure you’re okay
Remember you are going through a loss yourself. Make sure that you are also finding support for yourself. Whether that is seeing your own therapist or having family/friends to support you. It is important to make sure you are able to be fully present to help your child as needed.
If you have any questions or want more information on how to talk to your child about death, feel free to fill out the form below to contact me. I also provide a free consultation to see how I can help you and your family.
Courtney Glashow, LCSW
is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in Hoboken, New Jersey. She specializes in helping teens, young adults, and parents through counseling. Courtney can help NY or NJ residents through telehealth therapy sessions as well.