En Passant: Discussing the Concept of Death to Children

by | Mar 28, 2023 | About Life, Death | 0 comments

Photo by RODNAE Productions

As much as children are yet to comprehend how people come to life fully, the concept of death is equally complex. But regardless of this complexity, adults must try easing them into why it happens.

Death is as constant as change. One way or another, children will experience losing a loved one, whether this be a family member, pet, or even friend. When this happens, they should be able to mourn losing a beloved. However, unless they fully understand that this person isn’t returning, they will never express the sadness of losing someone dear to them.

For a similar reason that children ask about where they came from, they’re likely to come up with questions about death or the life after that. Children are curious beings. They come up with questions about what they’re commonly exposed to, whether literally or figuratively – including heaven and death. When conversations arrive at this point, most adults divert the topic, believing death or dying will make children anxious, confused, sad, or a mixture of all. But, unlike this belief, discussing these concepts can help children deal with them better.

The Concept of Death to Children

The concept of death isn’t a new idea to children. No matter how much adults avoid discussing this directly with children, they will still be exposed to it. Children can easily talk about death among each other in between children’s story books about war, movies, and even their games. But this doesn’t necessarily mean they have completely grasped this concept. Their understanding of it differs from the “mature” perspective, such as why people die and what happens afterward.

While they may actively incorporate this in their plays, they may still be curious about death. If adults choose to avoid this discussion, children can pick their behavior up and be uneasy about the concept of death. If this topic being “off-limits,” persists, it will be harder for children to embrace and feel heavy whenever they experience such a situation fully.

“When will grandma wake up?”

Often, children perceive death as a sleep-like state one wakes up from. If this understanding isn’t clarified, children will likely have trouble coping with death in the future. However, explaining the concept of death to children is never an easy task. If done improperly, it can cause them confusion. To help parents ease their children in this sensitive topic, here are strategies to follow:

Create a Safe Space

A primary step to healthily introduce children to this concept is for adults to take responsibility entirely. This includes creating a space where children can talk about or ask anything adults must honestly answer. But of course, this should be done within children’s comfort and comprehension. It won’t be a safe space if children aren’t comfortable or end up frightened about the conversation.

During the discussion, adults should see to it that they are still comfortable or not. If they observe that children are showing signs of discomfort, they should decide whether to continue the discussion. While it’s essential to introduce the concept of death to children, it’s still crucial they feel safe when talking about it.

Use Direct Explanations

Adults might soften their words when explaining death, believing it will incite fear. However, euphuisms like “gone to sleep, or she’s with grandpa” will create confusion rather than clarify things. If adults use these phrases instead of straightforward terminology like dead or dying, children will never fully understand the concept of death.

Reassure Children

It’s unavoidable that children will have fears and misconceptions about this concept. Adults should be there to clarify and provide concrete explanations, whether because of what other adults have taught them or misunderstandings they’ve developed. Instead of brushing these misconceptions aside, as they seem like the easier route, adults should be patient and redirect children toward an honest discussion.

Model Emotions

With a new and reasonably avoided concept of death, most children may find it challenging to regulate or express their thoughts when faced with death. This is when adults guide children on how to express their grief correctly. They should normalize the range of emotions people can go through when mourning for their loss. It’s also significant that adults teach children not to be afraid or avoid sharing memories or these people.


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