Explaining death to children: how to do it?

Explaining death to children

Explaining death to children: how to do it?

Death is a complex reality, difficult to accept, but it can become even more complicated when we try to explain it to children. What should you know about it? Read this article to find out some tips.

One of the most painful episodes in an individual’s life is the loss of a loved one. Not all adults are capable of dealing with moments like these. Yet, have you ever wondered how death can be explained to children or how the little ones feel about this phenomenon?

Even children, in certain situations, can feel anguish and even feel pain over the death of a loved one. Perhaps it could be easier to explain the death of a pet or a known person (not too close, however, to the family environment). However, if it is a close relative, the way of posing the question is bound to change.

The age of the child and the understanding of death

The studies conducted show that the understanding of death varies according to the age of the small. For example, before the age of two, children can perceive a sensation of presence and absence.

However, at this age, the child has not yet developed the capacity for an operative thought or, in other words, to elaborate a logical thought nor the possibility of developing a concept such as that of death.

According to Piaget’s theory, the reason for this is that at this age a sensory-motor development predominates that is mainly based on reflexes and it is, therefore, a normal fact that children are apathetic towards this pain.

Other research on bereavement in children points out that up to the age of 7 death is considered a temporary and reversible phenomenon. In the same way, you can nurture a sort of “magical thought” by coming to believe that it was their thought that caused the fact.

Naturally, this is a topic that generates a certain concern in families, since the necessary resources are not always available to explain or answer the many questions posed by children. Adults, too, are looking for a way to communicate what has happened by trying to prevent children from feeling pain or, at least, from feeling as little as possible. It is precisely in these moments that we understand that we do not know the right words to pronounce.

Children and questions

If your child is under the age of five at the time of death, there are three key things he or she will not be able to understand:

  • Death is a definitive and irreversible fact.
  • In the deceased person, vital functions are completely absent, and permanently.
  • It is a universal phenomenon: sooner or later, it will come for everyone.

For this reason, children can ask: “Why can’t I see grandfather anymore?”, “Does death hurt?”, “This thing is forever?”, “Where is it?”, “Is it cold?”, “Can you hear us?” and other questions that we adults could also ask ourselves, but that children adapt to their own reality. How, then, can we adults respond?

How can death be explained to children?

Adolescents (but also pre-adolescents) are already able to understand the concept of death, almost like adults. However, they too may be afraid of being abandoned, of losing the other parent, thus hiding their feelings.

When faced with the loss of a loved one, little ones can have feelings that are difficult to understand. For this reason, we must constantly support them and clarify their doubts.

Here are some of the ways we adults can respond to explain death to children:

  • Send peace of mind. If you feel you do not have the ability to answer a question, you can tell the little one that you will do it later, because his question is very important and you want to give yourself some time to answer in the best way.
  • The answers must be consistent.
  • Allow the child to express their fears in a safe and quiet place, without interruption.
  • Avoid using the following phrases: “He is sleeping” or “He is traveling to the afterlife”, as responses such as these could cause the child to fear sleep or travel.
  • Give clear answers. “The fact that that person is dead means that we won’t be able to see him again”, but you can convey peace of mind by adding that “His memory will always remain with us”.
  • Some parents offer answers of a religious nature, but it is possible that young children may not be able to understand them and that they need more specific answers regarding the concrete fact of the person’s physical absence.
  • School-age children probably need help describing their feelings. Help them and take the time to listen and provide the required clarifications.
  • Explain to the child that his actions did not result in the death of his loved one, to prevent him from harboring feelings of guilt.
  • Let your little one know that not all people who get sick die and give them a sense of security about their health.
  • Finally, the most important thing for the child is that you apply this advice with love and affection because it is what the little ones need most.

You may also like to read, How can we enhance our children’s ability to believe in themselves?

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