Talking to Kids About Death and Dying

Veer Images: Nailia Schwartz

Veer Images: Nailia Schwartz

Talking to kids about death and dying may not be easy, but it is important. These conversations help to shape our children's attitudes about what it means to have to say goodbye to someone you love. Here are some tips on getting the conversation started. Remember, this is a conversation you'll be having on an ongoing basis as your child grows and matures and he begins to ask new and different questions about death and dying.

When you're trying to decide how to answer your child's questions, keep your child's age and abilities in mind. Very young children may have simple and direct questions that warrant simple and direct answers.

Look for the teachable moments that occur as part of everyday life. If you're lucky, your child's first experience with grief and bereavement will be with a goldfish as opposed to a grandparent. 

Respect your child's feelings. It is sad when a much-loved pet like a goldfish dies. It is normal to wish that pets (and people) we love could be here with us forever.

Don't use euphemisms simply because you're uncomfortable using the d-word. The goldfish isn't sleeping. It is dead. You don't want your child to be afraid to go to bed at night for fear of never waking up. 

Tackle the tough questions ("Are you going to die, too, mommy?")  as honestly as you can while simultaneously acknowledging you don't have all the answers. You can also reassure your child that are doing everything you can to try to live a long and healthy life and promise to let your child know if the situation changes. Respectful and honest communication alleviates a lot of anxiety for children -- and parents, too.