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Death: Prepare Children for the Death of a Loved One

Chances are that someone important to your child will die before your child reaches adulthood. How can you prepare children for the death of someone close to them? First, be caring and supportive. Be honest, reassuring, and willing to talk about feelings.

Very Young Children (ages 2 to 4)

Talk to your children about death in a way that they can understand. Children between ages 2 and 4 react to people not being with them. Preschool children do not understand that dead people are gone forever. Stories in books, children's movies, TV shows, or the death of a pet can all be ways to start talking about what death means.

The most important thing for children to know is that someone will always be there to take care of them. Reassure your child that you or someone else who loves her will be always be there.

Young Children (ages 5 to 8)

Children between the ages of 5 and 8 may think that somehow they can cause death by wishing it would happen or by not doing what they were told to do. This "magical thinking" can cause your child to feel guilty.

Let your child visit and help take care of a loved one who is seriously ill. Taking a drawing or a drink of water to Grandma lets your child feel like they are helping, which can lessen guilt. If there are tubes and medical equipment, tell your child what he will see and how it helps Grandma feel more comfortable. Be wiling to talk, or to let your child go play when he needs to.

School-age Children (ages 9 to 12)

School-age children are beginning to understand that death is final. Your child may change the subject or ignore you when you try to talk to them about death. It’s okay to wait for them to bring up the topic again. Encourage them to play. Play is the way children process death and sort out their feelings about it.

Explain about funerals, and what happens after the funeral. Children are comforted when they know the routines and customs. Your child may want to attend these rituals. If you simply and honestly explain what your child will hear and see before, during, and after the services, it is OK to bring them to the funeral or other events related to the death.

Teens

At this age, your child may want to talk about death and dying. Although teens know that everyone will die, they often do not believe that death will touch them. However, a parent in the military, or the illness of a friend or family member can create anxiety and depression in teens. Don't be afraid to talk honestly about death and dying with your teen. They need to hear what you have to say.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-01-09
Last reviewed: 2012-12-28
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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