Talking to Children About Death and Dying

Grief has been all around me recently.  Two people close to me lost family members this past month. I didn’t share this with my daughter, since she did not know the people who passed away. Yet for some reason, maybe because she is such a sensitive being, she has been asking about death and dying.father and daughter

I’ve wanted to write about it, but have not known what to say. Whenever my daughter asks me about dying, I am confronted with my own resistance and fear.

She looks to me for comfort and reassurance but I don’t know how to talk to her about death in a way that doesn’t make her feel scared. It doesn’t help that as a society we have issues with the end of life. Most people around me are in complete denial of its inevitability. 

My daughter is four years old and seems acutely aware that death is not reversible. The other day we were telling her about my husband’s godfather, who passed away before she was born. He holds a special place in our family and we speak of him often. Mid-conversation our sweet child began to weep, overcome with sadness that she will never get to meet him.

In that moment I did the best I could. I talked about how when people die, their bodies are no longer with us, but that they live in our hearts. I explained that we keep them with us by remembering them. I admitted that no one really knows exactly what happens after we die. Maybe we become a part of nature, flying through the stars, maybe we live nestled in one another’s memories, maybe there is a land of the remembered like the magical places we saw portrayed in the children’s movies Coco and The Book of Life.

She was soothed. So I left it at that. With this age group less is more. They simply need their curiosities honoured and not dismissed, in simple terms that they can understand.

A few months ago my daughter asked me how she was made. I replied: “Daddy and I made you from love.” And that was enough. She now tells anyone who will listen that she was made from love. Later, she will need more information. She will be ready for more, and she will ask the questions and I will answer openly. For now she got an answer she can make sense of.

It’s the same with death. I tell her the truth in a way she can grasp. Death is not “sleep,” or “rest,” or “going away.” It means we won’t get to see that person again. Our bodies are a part of nature and everything in nature has a cycle of living and dying. And yet the love we have for one another lives on. I teach my daughter that my love and all the love around her will always live in her heart.

For now, it’s enough. It comforts her. And it comforts me too.

How do you talk about death and dying with young children? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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