How Do I Explain a Death in the Family?

It has been said that life is about Hello’s and Goodbye’s. While the hello’s in life can be full of expectation and excitement, the goodbye’s can bring emotions across a full range of emotions.

Losing a person who is dear to you or your family is difficult. Explaining a death in the family to a child can be a difficult and emotional experience. Especially when you are carrying your own grief, you may be at a loss as to how to start this conversation. Here are some tips that may help:

Be HonestDepending on your child’s age, death may be a confusing topic. Don’t overcomplicate it by watering it down. For example, using phrases like “he’s gone” or “she left” will only bring about more questions than answers. Use clear and simple language that is appropriate for their age and developmental level.
Use Concrete ExamplesChildren often think in concrete terms, so using examples they can relate to can help them understand the concept of death. For example, you could explain that a person’s body stops working like a machine that has broken beyond repair.
Encourage QuestionsEncourage your child to ask questions and be open to answering. Given the complexities of the emotions they’re experiencing, questions are a good place for them to start making sense of grief. Remember to be patient and understanding as a question that may seem simple to you needs clarification for them.
Offer Comfort and Support Let your child know that it’s okay to feel sad or upset, and offer comfort and support in the form of hugs, reassurance, and a listening ear. Sharing your own emotions, within reason, also provides an opportunity to connect with your child.
Be Prepared for Different ReactionsChildren may react to death in a variety of ways, and it’s important to be prepared for a range of reactions. Some children may cry or become withdrawn, while others may have questions or want to talk about the person who died. However your child is responding, be patient and support their personal journey.

Remember, you lost someone too. Be kind to yourself and honest with your loss. Your example of emotional honesty, however uncomfortable or painful, is helpful in modeling for your child how to deal with their own feelings of loss.

Every child is unique and may react differently to the news of a death in the family. By being honest, offering comfort and support, and encouraging questions and open communication, you can help your child process their emotions and come to terms with the loss.

Loss of a loved one is complex and our team at Decade2Connect is here to support your family through the stages of grief.

Our Intensive Outpatient Program is in-network with United!