Explaining Death to Our Children

by Shellie Spradlin

Explaining death to our children is among the top 10 hardest things to do. We're going to help you out and give you some helpful tips on how to get started and end with a personal anecdote.

**Helpful Tips**

  • Do not avoid discussing death if the child brings it up
  • Be willing to share your feelings of grief with your child. Some adults try to hide their feelings for the benefit of the child -- don't be tempted.
  • Allow your children to talk about their feelings. Children often respond to the loss of a loved one with feelings of guilt or shame.
  • Be honest. Answer any questions that your child might have. Be sure to keep the explanations simple.
  • Be patient and loving. Children might express their grief in tantrums, dependency or regression to an earlier age.
  • Remember that sometimes all a child needs is a touch or a hug!
  • Prepare children for the funeral by telling them what to expect. Let them know that there will be crying and sadness.

The tips above are not the end-all for suggestions. Feel free at the end of this article to post your own in the comment section.

Below is an anecdote to help personalize the experience:


When my children asked about the death of their grandfather, I listened willingly and answered what I could. I felt that is was okay to tell my children that I didn't have all the answers to their questions.

It is really important to listen to what the child is saying. They might be small, but their emotions and feelings are very real and important. Encourage your child to come to you with questions or if they want to talk about the death. Sometimes a child must say things out loud to someone else just to comprehend what is going on around them.

Although we may be feeling the pain of the loss, it is important to share our feelings with the child. As adults we go into protection mode as far as our children are concerned. A child can sense that something is wrong and that could cause more distress for them. Through you they will learn that it is okay to express the emotions they are having about the situation.

Be on the lookout for your child to possibly lash out and show his/her emotions in anger or frustration. This comes from being confused as well as from feeling the pain of the loss. Hold your child; tell him/her that it is okay to be angry. It is important to stress to the child that it is okay to cry. You should never tell the child that they should not cry. This will cause more confusion and more lashing out.

Then, there is dealing with the actual funeral. This can potentially unravel what you've already done, so be ready for that.

A funeral home can be a very scary place to a child, especially if they have never been to one before. You need to explain to your child what will be going on when you arrive. The first thing you should do is offer your children the option to go or not. I wanted my own children to be able to feel that they had some sense of control in this unpredictable situation.

You'll need to explain to your children that their loved one will be there (if open casket), but they will be different (explain death as your religion sees it). With my own children, I explained that "papaws" soul had left his body when he passed away and went back home to be with God. Also, that he would be cold to the touch and gave them the option of touching him if they felt comfortable enough to do so. I would not keep them creating their own experience.

Try and go through every possible event that they could see while you're at the funeral home. Explain that there will be crying, sadness, and sometimes anger from other loved ones around them (again, reinforce that they need not be afraid to show their feelings).

Before you actually go to the funeral, you might want to arrange for someone to take your children home if it is too much for him or her. Little minds can only handle so much stimulation, and a lot of relatives will be there.

After the funeral is over, your child might withdraw themselves from you or other family members. In some ways, this is their way of dealing with things and it is okay. But if at anytime you feel that your child is deeply depressed or feels suicidal, please contact someone to support and counsel the child. Sometimes all they need is an outsider to talk to.

As for my children, they fondly talk of their "papaw." Sometimes we will sit and talk about when he died and what went on at that time. Krystan will draw pictures or write little notes for him to put on the refrigerator next to his picture. She has even written some notes to me telling me that my Daddy still loves me. I think that my children have adjusted quite well to the death of my father. We still miss him, but that pain isn't as intense as it was. We know we will see him again someday.

Shellie Spradlin is a long time Pregnancy.org contributor and beloved member. As mom to three beautiful girls, two boys and a 1995 angel baby, Shellie has experienced both the pains and discomforts of pregnancy along with the excitement and joys! Shellie resides with her family in the Bluegrass State of Kentucky.

This piece is written in Loving Memory of Robert Billy Jones, Jr.

Copyright © Shellie Spradlin. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.