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Explaining death to a child can be one of the most difficult tasks of a lifetime. You may be grieving this death yourself. And although children experience some of the same needs and feelings as adults, their thought processes are much different. therefore, you will need a clear understanding of their feelings, fears and needs in order to explain to them about a death, and to handle the questions and emotions that usually follow.
Should the Children Know?
Learning to accept death is a natural experience in life which, must not be ignored. Talking about death is necessary. It is a vital part of every child's development.
Tell the child as soon as possible. if you wait, you risk someone else telling them...and possibly in the wrong way. Before saying anything, take a few minutes to compose your thoughts so that you have a clear idea of what you want to say and how you will say it. Bear in mind that the way you explain death to a child today can affect that child for the rest of his or her life. This is a task that needs to be done gently, carefully and correctly so that the child will begin forming lifelong, healthy attitudes about life and death.
If possible, tell the child in a familiar setting. If this isn't possible, look for a quiet spot that offers some degree of intimacy and privacy.
The should be told, preferably, by a loving and caring person from the immediate family, someone they know and trust. Someone who will be open and honest with them and who will be able to be there in the days and weeks that follow. if you are not a member of the immediate family, you should first attempt to locate a member of the family. You might ask for assistance from a member of the clergy if you are unable to contact a family member yourself.
Keep the explanation simple and honest. Use words the child will understand. Speak slowly and in a soft gentle voice. Pausing for comfort, listen, answer questions, to hug and to hold, even to cry with them. Get yourself on the same physical level; kneel, bend or sit down beside them. You don't need to give all the details right now; but be sure to speak the truth and that you do not use euphemisms.
Unfortunately there is no road map for this kind of conversation. Children will each react differently based on such things as age, developmental level, their relationships with the deceased and how they feel about death.It is not your role to intercept the child's grief nor should you try to shield the child from pain and sadness. Your job is to provide comfort and love. Healthy grieving needs ritual and you are beginning that ritual as soon as you tell the child.
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