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Understanding death: 12 top tips to help your little ones


Last week we had a phone call from my sister in law saying that perhaps we should go and visit my husband’s Grandmother.

She is in her mid nineties and until fairly recently was completely independent but over the last few months has had a series of problems, a spell is hospital and is now very well cared for in a home.

So, we told the children we were going to see Great Grandma as she wasn’t well.  The ten year old piped up:  “Is she going to die?”  Quickly followed by the 5 year old “will she have a grave?”

This got me thinking about how we should prepare our children on how to understand death.  Years ago the cycle of life, birth and death was much more a part of childrens lives; now it is not so.  I’m  not sure many even think about it so we can help prepare our children.  What exactly we tell them will depend on their age and maturity but If we explain something to them they can deal with it much better.

Here are some ideas.

  1. Be honest.  Listen carefully to any questions and answer honestly. I explained that, at 95, Great Grandma has had a long life and probably won’t live for very many more years but we don’t know exactly how many. And I don’t know whether she will have a grave but she will have told someone.
  2. If they ask will they or you die, explain yes but hopefully not for a long time.
  3. Young children may ask the same questions again or ask when the person is coming back. We need to gently answer them again and again if needed.
  4. Some questions may seem more complex. Young children can be very literal so if they ask where the person who died is, in the cemetery might be all the answer they need.
  5. If you don’t know the answers it is ok to say ‘I don’t know’
  6. Any beliefs you and your family have can be explained.
  7. Having pets can help children learn nothing lives forever.
  8. It may not be helpful to say the person has gone away or for a long sleep. This could lead to confusion and even fear.
  9. We can let them know it’s ok to feel sad and that there is no right or wrong way to feel, and at the same time we, as a parent, are still there for them.
  10. As to the funeral – up to you and if your child wants to go.
  11. If you are concerned your grief will make it hard to look after your child or it might frighten them, ask a friend to look after them.
  12. If a child is attending a funeral – explain what will happen first.

The visit went well and none of the children asked any awkward questions while we were there. Apart from being a little frailer, slightly deafer and more likely to go off at a random tangent Great Grandma was the same and she we obviously delighted to see her Great Grand Children.

Do you have any other suggestions for understanding death? We would love to hear from you. Also, if you like this article then do subscribe to the blog as well….

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Photo Credit: David Castillo Dominici /

Beckie is a mum to three kids, and works in the Cambridge area as a coach. Feel free to get in contact for a no obligation discussion.

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