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How to talk about



Whether it is the loss of a pet, a family member, or simply them seeing the topic on TV, sooner or later your child will learn about death and have questions.

Whichever way the topic comes into their life, it is important you are ready to help them understand.

What are the signs a child is exploring the concept of death?

Dying Matters says the key sign is children asking questions: "Children may ask practical questions instead of talking about their feelings. Sometimes these might sound strange.

"What’s it like inside a coffin? What does a dead body really look like?

"Will I be a ghost when I die? These are entirely sensible things to wonder – and it can be reassuring to a child if you discuss them, rather than dismissing them as silly."

How do I talk to my child about death? 

Dying Matters has this helpful advice:

Take your cues from the questions they ask, or try the following...

  • Talk about death as a part of life and how life and death go together.
  • Use the natural world to demonstrate the way in which all things die – flowers withering, leaves falling.
  • Use books to discussions about dying: there are many available for children dealing specifically with death. 
  • Finding a dead animal or the death of a pet can be an opportunity to start a conversation about dying. Let the child be there when it
  • is buried, and carry out rituals like planting flowers.
  • If they want to, let children come to funerals – they are a way of saying goodbye to the person who has died. Tell them what to expect. 

Once chatting always...

  • Listen carefully, so you know exactly what they mean.
  • If you don’t know the answer, say so.
  • Don’t worry if you think you’ve answered the question badly – it’s more important to the child that you’ve paid attention.
  • Try not to look uncomfortable answering their questions – it may create the impression that talking about these things is not allowed.
  • Try and answer their question as soon as they’ve asked it – children’s attention span is limited.
  • A series of short conversations is often easier than long sessions.
  • Be clear and direct in your language – using phrases such as “passed away” rather than “died” can leave them confused.
  • There’s no harm in a child seeing that you are sad or crying if someone has died. It may help them know their own grief is acceptable 

Suggested answers to the most common questions...

Q “Am I going to die?”
A “Everyone dies eventually, but it probably won’t be for a long time.”

Q “Are you going to die?”
A “Most people die when they are old.”

Q “What does dead mean?”
A “Something or somebody that’s dead doesn’t move, or eat, or breathe, or do anything. They cannot feel pain, and will never wake up.”

Where else can I get help?

© Produced by Adele Norris in association with Eagle Radio