How To Explain Death To Children

As adults we realize that life is not easy.  Life is full of ups and downs and challenges.  Life is not always a fairytale with happy endings. Life is full of surprises.  When you think you have life all figured out you get thrown another curve ball.  New relationships start, old ones end, marriages break up, families break up and people die.  This is part of life and as adults we become accustom to it.  Make some sense of it and go on with our new normal.

How do we explain these concepts to children.  As parents we try to shelter our kids from all harm and everything terrible.  We sugar coat everything and tell our kids everything is going to be ok.  We put them in a bubble and keep all harm out of this bubble as best as we can.

What do we do when the bubble has a little tear the terrible things start coming in.  There is no sugar-coating, not lying and no saying everything is going to be ok.  Because these terrible things are permanent and wont go away.  The fairytale that she sees everyday is coming to an end.   How do you explain death to a child.  Especially when the death is of a parent.

This is what happened to our family.  My daughter was only 5 and we had to explain to her that her daddy was dying.  I myself was having a hard time dealing with this news and making sense of what was going on, how was I gonna tell my daughter.

I thought about not telling her. Waiting for the right time to tell her.  You know as you see in movies the perfect moment to tell her. But soon realized that was not a good idea.  When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer, we spoke to her Montessori teacher at the time about how to handle this for her.  The first thing she said was tell her the truth.  Tell her in little bits and give her as much information as you think she can handle but don’t lie to her.  Don’t fictionalized it and be truthful.  Facts only.

She explained, that children watch their surrounding and even though you may think they are playing and engrossed in play.  They are listening.  But if we don’t tell them the truth then they will make their own interpretation of what is happening which may not be the real interpretation.  So its best to always tell them the truth.

Immediately after we got the news, we told our parents.  Which was very hard.  Then I went to pick my daughter up from school.  We went to get ice cream, because lets face it all bad news sounds better when you have ice cream.  I began to explain to her what was happening.  She already knew daddy was sick.  But now I had to tell her that daddy’s bug was back and that it can not be removed anymore.  I explained that daddy was dying and that means that she would not see daddy again after he died.  I don’t know where the strength came from to do all of this, but I guess as they say we will do anything for our children. So I stayed brave for her.  Answered her questions and bought her more ice cream.  The idea of permanence was what she was having difficulty with.

Since my husband had Cancer and was in cancer treatment we were part of a program thought Hospice Calgary.  Hospice Calgary offers the only professional, specialized services for grieving children in southern My daughter had a councillor who she really connected with and became friends with.  for her it was nice to talk to someone who wasn’t dealing with the issues themselves. SHe asked a lot of questions to her councillor that she would necessarily ask me.  When my husband passed away the first thing she said was for me to call her councillor so she could talk to her.

Hospice Calgary is a great program and provides these service free of charge. they provide these services thanks to generous donations and  by raising funds in their annual Hike for Hospice.  This year its being held on May 7, 2017.  If you can donate please do.  Use this link

Our councillor suggested that we get some books to read to her.  So that she can understand the concept of death better.  She suggested a few books and the list is here below.  I hope you enjoy the list of books and please comment if you used them or if you find this blog helpful.  These books can be used in all situations where death is involved be it a family member, friend or acquaintance these books will help.

  1. When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death – written by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown is a wonderful book that is perfect for speaking to young children about death.  The language is simple and direct and it allows children to understand their feelings
  2. I Miss You: A First Look at Death is also geared towards young children.  Written by Pat Thomas, this books talks about feelings that children may have, following death of a loved one.  The book asks, “what about you?” throughout the story, so you can pause and stop and speak to your child as it relates to them.
  3. Gentle Willow: A Story for Children about Dying relates death to a tree.  Written by Joyce C Mills PHD.  This story is lovely in that it discusses “special gifts” that the tree provided… these special gifts are memories.
  4. The Invisible String this was our favorite book by far.  By Patrice Karst is wonderful.  The book is a little abstract.  The concept of the story is that “people who love each other are always connected by a very special string made of love” This concept even though it relates to death it can be used with all separation issues as well.

Death is an uncomfortable topic to discuss.  No on likes to talk about until you absolutely have to.  For children it is a big concept and hard to understand.  these tools help them to cope and help them understand.  Hope you find this helpful and can share with others out there who may need this.

God Bless



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