How to Talk to Children about Death
“Mommy, can people die from surgery?”
I’ve answered that question about 1000x in the past 2 months. Or one similar to it, just switch out that last word to something else.
Lately, my non-disabled child is somewhat obsessed with death. It doesn’t appear to be affecting him in a sad or anxious way, it appears to be curiosity. His focus is mainly on how our Presidents died, and the two dogs we had before the ones we have now. But, then his grandparents on different sides both had surgery on the same day, and that bothered him. We had to answer lots of questions about surgery.
And, I hate lying. So I had to keep repeating, “Yes, you can, but it’s very unlikely for that to happen because…”
But the truth is, we all worry when a loved one is having surgery or is ill. And, death is a part of life. He kind of got me thinking, what am I going to do when that time does come? We’ve been pretty fortunate so far in that I haven’t had to explain it to either of them. Last week the whole world was talking about the death of Prince. And Brian asked questions. I wanted to have better answers to his questions about death.
So I started poking around online and found some great resources. I think that many of these could be used for any difficult topic, not just death.
10 Great Resources to teach kids about Death and Dying
- How to Help a Grieving Child-from Dougy: I love this tip from them- Children appreciate having choices as much as adults do. They have opinions and feel valued when allowed to choose. And they don’t like to be left out. For example, it is a meaningful and important experience for children to have the opportunity to say goodbye to the person who died in a way that feels right to them. They can be included in the selection of a casket, clothing, flowers and the service itself. Some children may also want to speak or write something to be included in the service or participate in some other way.
- Gentle Books for Children Dealing with Grief and Death–from Amazon-Great list of both parenting books and fiction books where a character dies and it’s talked about.
- Children’s Developmental Stages: Concepts of Death and Responses to Grief–by Vitas- This article is very good at breaking down age groups and what a typical aged child’s concept of death will be, and what their grief response will be. Keep in mind you might have to adjust it to your child’s actual mental age.
- Discussing Death With Children–from Kspope- There are some good takeaways in this article for how to handle death in the classroom. This can be particularly important for the child who loses a classmate, as can happen more often than usual in the special needs community.
- Dealing with Death–from Fred Rogers- Leave it to Mr. Rogers to really give you the warm and fuzzies and some really insightful information.
- How to Talk to Kids About Death–from Child Development Info- Offers tips for parents, especially about overcoming our own obstacles in talking about death.
- How to Talk to Children with Autism About Death–by Fox News Health-I like this one because it encourages parents to use social stories and write a story together. Not a lot of tips, but very useful for any child, I think.
- How Children Understand Death–from Scholastic-Thoroughly explains the concepts of death that are the perceptions of children.
- How Children Understand Death & What You Should Say–from Healthy Children-This is the one I am using now, to explain the surgery and other items as he is asking questions. I found it very helpful.
- When Families Grieve-Sesame Street: Great special they did a few years ago. See the clip below or you can watch on YouTube. They also did a great teaching segment about death in the show when Mr. Hooper died (in real life). They also had him die on the show at the same time, rather than pretend he didn’t.
“Young children don’t know that sadness isn’t forever. It’s frightening for them to feel that their sadness may overwhelm them and never go away. That “the very same people who are sad sometimes are the very same people who are glad sometimes” is something all parents need to help their children come to understand.” ~Fred Rogers
This post was published in 2015 but updated to check links.