Bereavement and Children

How to respond to children asking questions about death and dying.

Children have their own way of using language. Often they will ask questions in the middle of ordinary conversations and when they have had enough thay can often just change the subject or walk away or involve themselves in other activities. Think about what the child can manage because you can communicate in many ways and you don’t have to give all the information in one conversation.

  • Try and accept that these sorts of  conversations will feel uncomfortable – for you and for them.
  • Whatever is said is just a start. Make sure that you do not do or say anything that is critical. Give them space to talk.
  • Understand that a child’s language is still developing and words and use don’t match adult meanings and usage
  • When asked what dead means, it can be helpful to explain things: say something clear like, “dead bodies can’t breath, can’t eat and won’t ever wake up.”
  • Check their understanding and if you don’t know its OK to say so.
  • Encourage them to return with more questions and be patient.
  • Sometimes emotional pain frightens us or inhibits our communications. It is helpful to explain that you are finding it painful to talk about death – AT THE MOMENT –  because you’re still feeling the loss of  your father or mother etc….
  • Hold onto the idea that children may imagine you or they are going to die. try to be gentle but realistic and reassure them. Some people find it useful to say things like, ” people do die when they’re old or very sick and even though young people and  children die of serious illness or in accidents occasionally generally they live for many happy years”.
  • Children are curious and ask lots questions about what is happening around them or what will happen.  They could ask about funerals or hospitals or cemeteries.  people have found it helpful to say,  ‘A funeral is a special time and a place  when everybody who knew the person who died gather to remember them. There may be prayers and songs or talking.  Some people cry. Everyone thinks a lot about the person who died.”

Children’s books on death, loss and and grief.

Here are some suggestions. I would encourage you to explore for yourselves

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley (Collins Picture Lions)

The Original Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams (Mammoth)

Remembering Grandad by Sheila and Kath Isherwood (Oxford University Press)

What Do We Think About Death? by Karen Bryant-Mole (Wayland)

Talking with Children and Young People About Death and Dying: A Resource by Mary Turner and Bob Thomas

I Miss You: A First Look at Death (First Look at Books (Pb)) by Pat Thomas and Lesley Harker

A  Google search will bring a good many other examples and suggestions.