Inevitably, children will be faced with
the death of a loved one, whether it is a pet or a human. For some,
it may come early in their lives; for others, maybe not until they
are teenagers. Death is a part of life, and parents need to try to
teach children about death so that when it happens to someone they
know, they won't be totally in the dark about what death is.
Children of different ages deal with and accept death in different
ways. A good resource to read is Healthopedia.com: Discussing Death
with Children. This website helps you to understand how children of
different ages understand and deal with death.
The death of a pet may be a good way to start teaching children about
death. It is very important to talk to children about death and encourage
them to talk about it, also. It is good to have a good-bye ritual
for a pet, even a small one such as a goldfish. Encourage them to
say their goodbyes.
Parents should be honest with children about death. They should always
use the words "death", and don't use the terms "sleeping"
or "gone away for a while". If you tell a child that someone
has gone to sleep instead of dying, they may be afraid that the other
parent or grandparent (or even they) will die if they go to sleep.
They may think the person will come back if you tell them that they
have gone away.
Children need to know that death is a natural part of the living process.
They should be taught that everything that lives will someday die
because that is the way nature is. You could tell them that different
animals have different life spans, as do people. If you are religious,
you can integrate your faith with death and explain the afterlife
as you believe it. A child may find great comfort in believing that
their loved one has gone to Heaven to be with God. It helps to tell
them, especially if their loved one has been sick and has been suffering,
that now they are healthy and are no longer suffering.
Sometimes when children lose a parent or a grandparent to death, they
might think that they will lose the others, also. Even if they don't
mention it, it is good to reassure them that Grandpa was very ill,
but that Grandmother is healthy and will be around a long time to
come. Explain that some people die before they get old, but that not
everybody dies young. They may see death as a threat to their security.
They may worry that their other parent will leave them and they will
be alone. They need reassurance even if they haven't verbalized their
It is good to explain to children that even though their loved one
is gone in body, their memories live with us, and we have pictures
and mementos to remember them by. It may help for a child to write
a story or draw pictures of their memories, or create a scrapbook
that they can keep in which to remember the person.
Children handle grief in different ways. They may act out, wet the
bed temporarily, will cry more often, seek more attention, or feel
The closer a child is to a person who has died, the harder it will
be for them to cope and recover. Expect it to take time for them to
heal their pain and their loneliness.
Discuss how you feel, and encourage them to tell you how they feel
about the death. Don't put on a mask and act as if everything is O.K.
for you, for in doing so, a child may get the message that they aren't
supposed to feel sad or to grieve. Let them know that it is alright
to cry and feel sad for a while.
Don't force a young child to go to a funeral, but allow them to go
if they want to.
Don't force them to kiss the person goodbye in the coffin.
It is important to try to keep routines as normal as possible. Do
celebrate holidays that come along. Get children out of the house
and encourage them to play. Don't expect them to go into mourning.
Make sure they are outside enjoying nature.
It is a mistake for a parent or a grandparent to put a child in a
situation in which they feel that they need to take the place of the
deceased person. Be very careful what you say and how you say it,
for a child may take on a burden that is way too heavy for their young
age. Never make a child feel that you are leaning on them for comfort
and for companionship. Some children find it hard to concentrate in
school, display personality changes, have problems eating, or have
changes in sleep patterns. Some children take on the responsibility
of "being there" for the remaining spouse and take the responsibility
of their care and emotional well-being as something they should take
on. Watch what you say and don't make them feel that they have to
be the "man of the house".
Even though you enjoy their company,
and their presence is indeed a comfort to you, avoid making them feel
that they should spend all of their free time with you. Adults have
to be the adult. They should encourage a child to be a child and not
put undue responsibility on them, either physically or emotionally.
From chabad.org, "Dear Rachel" article, we learn about the
value of the soul in death. Rachel says, "In Judaism, we view
life as 2-dimensional; we have a body and we have a soul. The body
is physical and finite, whereas the soul is a spiritual creation and
is eternal to its core. The Chassidic Masters explain that the soul
is an "actual piece of God", and thus, is inextinguishable.
This is the part of a person that never goes away. Likewise, it is
the soul that animates the body and allows a person to accomplish
great things and make a positive impact in this world. The good deeds
and memories one leaves behind will remain even long after the body
Thus, teaching children about our souls is a good way for them to
deal with death. They body goes away, but the soul remains. Memories
of them remain. Their impact on our lives will always be with us.