Home parenting How do I explain death to my child?

How do I explain death to my child?

by ines.wurbs@icloud.com

Death – is a topic that many like to avoid. Nevertheless, it is an essential topic and, unfortunately, in many families, it is necessary to deal with it in due time. But how can you explain to your child what “dead” actually mean?

Tell your child the truth in an age-appropriate way. Who died, what does death mean, and what happened? Try to answer truthfully any questions your child may have.

What does death mean?

Explain to your child that death is part of our lives. It is, to be exact, the end of our lives. Dying means that the deceased is physically no longer there. When someone is dead, he/she can never breathe, eat, feel, see and live again. The deceased is no longer with us on earth. 

The term ‘forever’ or ‘never’ is not tangible for children up to elementary school age. It is too abstract, and infinity is still too difficult to grasp. Children often believe that if something is dead, it will eventually live again.

However, even at kindergarten age, they distinguish between living and non-living things. Everything that moves or makes noise is alive. Anything that is rigid and doesn’t do anything on its own is simply not alive.

Be aware

When explaining death, avoid using overly flowery paraphrases such as “He left us, she left us, or he fell asleep forever.” This is rather scary for our children and may lead to wrong assumptions.

Why do you have to die? Explanation for kids

As we know, the reasons are very diverse. Explain to your child why a loved one died. “She was very ill, and he was already old or adapted”, depending on the situation. Everything that lives eventually dies. Our bodies are made that way.

Perhaps you should also explain to your child that we humans are usually lucky enough to grow old and live for many years. You can also take it as an opportunity to explain why we should try to live healthy lives and that it is vital to avoid accidents as much as possible.

Be aware

Be honest with your child. But be careful not to scare him/ her.

What happens after death? Explanation for kids

Probably a question that many of us adults struggle with. You should answer this question based on your beliefs, and you can certainly explain what a funeral is and what happens there. We have another chance to say goodbye to the deceased. He/She will be buried in a coffin, and we can then visit the grave to respect the deceased.


Consider finding rituals with your child to commemorate the deceased. View a regular photo album. Tell stories about the deceased. For example, on public holidays or as an evening ritual. In this way, your child will see that the deceased has not completely disappeared from his world.

A 2016 study by the evangelical Chrismon magazine reveals what we believe about life after death. During the study, 1007 people aged 14 and over were interviewed. 

After death chart

Fear of loss

Of course, dealing with death can also trigger fears of loss in our children. You are afraid of losing your parents or other loved ones.

Sometimes you also have thoughts about your death. This is not unusual, and you should clarify the questions that arise with your child and let them ask questions.

If you don’t know something or don’t have a clear opinion about it yourself, tell your child that too. You may also point out to him in a very simplified manner what other explanations there are. Children usually find their way.

Sometimes it also helps if our children can talk about it with someone other than mom and dad. This can be another familiar person or a worry eater who listens to their children’s worries and then eats them away.

I have also had a good experience using books to help explain and process the subject of death.  A lovingly designed photo album can also help with grief and at the same time revive beautiful memories.

Are you dying too, mom?

From the age of about 3, children start picking up something about death again and again. When we then explain death in more detail, the question very often comes up: “Mom, are you dying too?”

Even if you might be shocked and would like to say no, I don’t think it’s the right answer. Explain to your child what you do to stay healthy for a long time and to grow old.

But I don’t want to die

“And what about me, mom?” Our little ones think about that rapidly. Here you can explain to your child, without scaring them, what they can do to stay healthy and that it is therefore important to avoid accidents. 

Explain to him that you will take care of him as much as possible and that he/ she will grow old. Maybe older than Grandma and Grandpa. This is usually incomprehensible to children. They just can’t put themselves in the position of others that well, and certainly not of different ages.

But it also shows them that death is still a long way off them. Probably at least. Above all, they can not yet assess it correctly and process it constructively.

Be aware

Try not to scare your child. If your child does get scared, try to calm them down. 

How do children grieve?

Children don’t mourn as we do, and there is no such thing as typical mourning. Many children do not react at all when they hear the news of their death. It may then later burst out of you uncontrollably.

Some children play countless role-playing games, others romp around a lot. Every child reacts according to his nature. And we shouldn’t stop it, and let our children grieve the way they choose.

Their path is the right one.  Even if it seems unusual to us. We must be there for them. They will comfort you when they need it, answer their questions and just cuddle more when they need it.

Quiet children should also be given attention. They often get lost in the hustle and bustle surrounding a death, and their needs are more easily overlooked. So if your child is quiet and reserved, try to pay attention to small signs.

If you are interested, I have linked you to a work by the University of Liberty on the subject of mourning among children and young people.

Be aware

We can also show our grief to our children. Being sad is nothing to be ashamed of. Especially not in front of our children. Otherwise, they will learn to suppress grief. And that’s not healthy.


Death is something natural, but we adults make it taboo, especially when it comes to our children. Whenever questions arise, we should try to answer them as honestly as possible. Of course, always in words that our children can understand. 

If there is a specific death in the family, support your child in their form of grief. And if possible, let your child say goodbye to the dying person.

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