Talking with Children about someone who is dying

 Open honest discussions that encourage children to ask questions are one of the most effective ways to communicate. When talking with children about death, it is important to use age-appropriate language. Always answer a child’s questions. A child will often not need or want the same kind of information as an adult (for example, clinical details). No matter how children cope with death or express their feelings, they need empathetic and non-judgmental responses from adults. Careful listening and watching are important ways to learn how to react appropriately to a child’s needs. Convey to the child that you want to hear his or her feelings and share your own emotions. If you repress your feelings, the child will be more apt to deny his or her own. Allowing a child to share his or her fears, anger and grief openly and without embarrassment can help both the child and adult to cope, accept and heal.

​ A child’s concept of illness and death varies depending upon his or her age. Be sure that the child is aware of an impending death or lack of a “cure” so that he or she can feel included as part of the family dynamic. Do not avoid telling children about the “facts” so that they can understand the situation, interpret all that is happening around them and do their part to help out. 

Tips for Talking with Children 

Maintain order and stability in the child’s life . Children cannot sustain emotional pain for long periods of time. 

Do not reject a child’s emotions; do not tell him or her how either to feel or not to feel. 

Allow the child to comfort you.
Be patient; children may need to ask the same questions over and over. 

​Be sure to explain that death is not contagious. 

Avoid equating death with “going to sleep.” 

Be sure to explain that death is not their fault.
Children often need to idolize the dead; help them gently to regain balance and perspective. 

​Encourage children to talk with a social worker, therapist, or school nurse if you feel they could benefit from hearing another perspective.