Death is never an easy subject, especially when kids are going to be impacted by it. For many parents, how to tell kids about death is their major worry once a death has occurred.
There is no particular way to break the news to children about death; it’s known that it’ll be painful.
However, if you are looking for some different options, you can work with the ideas below on how to tell kids about death.
What to bear in mind before telling kids about the death of someone they love
01Their age determines the impact of the news.
Before you tell a child about the death of a loved one, you will have to consider the age of the child. The age will determine how you will tell the child and imagine how the news might affect him/her.
Younger children, aged five and under, will need to be told with great care, sometimes indirectly or using metaphors.
Older kids can be told directly because they are more likely going to understand it a little better than a very young child.
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02Their sensitivity determines their response to the news.
In general, children come with varying sensitivities, regardless of age. A higher sensitivity means that the child may be greatly affected by the news and may respond in a way that is unpredictable.
Children with lower sensitivity may be older and may take the news a little better than a very young child. You can break the news with the child’s sensitivity in mind to make the process easier and less messy for both you and the child.
03Their relationship to the deceased is good/bad.
If the child in question did not know the dead relative that well, the child may not respond negatively to the news of that person’s death. The opposite is true for a relative whom they knew well, such as a sibling or a parent.
Knowing the relationship between the child and the recently deceased person can help you to determine how best to break the news and what to expect after the child has digested the news.
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04A health issue exists.
Children can have a wide range of health issues, and bad news can exacerbate the symptoms of an illness. In some cases, you may be asked to leave the child out a death announcement until the child is believed to be able to receive the news without becoming ill.
Underlying health issues, such as heart disease, can trigger traumatic reactions to the news of someone’s death, and this can worsen the situation for all parties involved.
How to tell kids when their grandparents passed away
01“Jimmy, I need to tell you something important. Grandpa has died. That means he has gone to be with God in Heaven, and we shall not be able to see him again. He died today in the hospital because he was sick.
It’s okay if you feel sad. Mummy and I feel sad too. You know that your grandpa loved you very much, right? However, he is happy, safe and smiling now in Heaven with God.
Grandpa will be watching over us when we sleep.”
This phrase is perfect to use because it is straightforward and pretty direct for a child; he/she will be able to understand. It also allows you to be honest with the child on many fronts.
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02“Hey Lindy, remember how I told you about where we go when we die? I told you that we go to Heaven when we die, and we need to start watching over our loved ones as they sleep.
Granny has gone to Heaven, Lindy. She died today at her home in Montana, and Daddy was there with her.
You know what that means, right? It means that she has gone to Heaven to watch over us, and we shall never see her again.”
This phrase is perfect for kids because it softens the blow with a reference to an explanation given at a previous time. It does not drop the ball of bad news in one instant.
This can minimize the damage and the trauma. It can work wonderfully for young children.
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How to tell them when your spouse or partner passed away
03“Marjorie dear, I have to talk to you about something very important. It’s not easy for me to tell you this, but Daddy has gone to the big house upstairs. The “big house upstairs” is where people who have died need to go.
It is very unfortunate. I just want you to know, honey, that Daddy loved you every day until his very last breath. He left with the wish that you be a good girl.
I am here for you, honey, and I will always love you.”
This phrase works well for young children who might not be acquainted with death yet. It works because it masks death and focuses on the future more.
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04“Patrick dear, your Mummy has died. She was sick for a long time in the hospital, and she was sick until she could not be sick anymore; God decided to take her.
Now, she will go to rest, and Jesus will take care of her for us from now on.
You will not be able to see her again on earth, but someday, we shall see her again where everyone else who has passed away is now resting.
Would you like to go see her one last time at the hospital?”
Phrases like this one can work well because they do not linger too much on the bad news, and they try to divert the attention to new activities and promises.
05“Albie, the doctor just told me some very sad news on the phone. Daddy has gone away to the other side, and he is not coming back. It means that Daddy has died, and we will not see him again.
I am so sorry, darling. Now, I have a request for you, Albie. Can you be my brave little soldier and come with me to go bid Daddy farewell one last time?
We need to show up for him in the way that he would have done for us.”
This phrase works because it helps someone be more straight-forward with the child, without employing religious mysticism or references to Heaven. Even without baby words, the phrase is easy for a child to understand.
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How to tell kids about death: When it’s one of their siblings
06“Guys, I have some bad news. Your brother Martin passed away last night. That means that he has died, and we shall not be able to see him again.
Martin was sick for a long time; he had a condition that made him very unhappy and uncomfortable.
At the hospital, the doctors said that there was nothing more that could be done for him. If you feel really sad, that is okay.
At the same time, we have to be strong for each other, for Mummy, and for Martin; it’s because only together we can overcome our troubles, remember?”
This phrase works well for kids because it’s honest and worded to fit their level of understanding. It also engages their attention by asking them to respond.
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07“Tina, I was at the hospital today, and the doctor gave me some bad news. He told me that Maggie would not be coming back home with me because she died today. I am so sorry darling; you must be devastated.
Do you know what Maggie would have wanted us to do for her, right now? She would have wanted us to pray for her together and to be strong for her. Do you think that you can be strong for Maggie?”
This phrase is wonderful for very sensitive and very young children.
It allows the user to prepare the child properly for the news of the death; Afterwards, the conversation turns to prayer in order to minimize the emotional dwelling that can happen after receiving this news.
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08“Hey Tony, I have some bad news. Miriam did not make it when she went to the hospital. She has been called by God to be with Him in Heaven. She was a beautiful flower, and he picked her for himself.
Now, she is lighting up Heaven with the other angels. I understand if you are feeling sad; I am feeling sad too.
We are going to meet granny and auntie Lou, alongside everyone else, tomorrow. We want to remember Miriam, so you should get some rest for the big day tomorrow.”
This phrase works well because it uses religious mysticism to explain death to the child. It also refuses to wallow in pity and talks about what will happen next.
How to tell kids about death: When it’s their uncle or aunt
09“Humphrey, it really breaks my heart to have to tell you this, but aunty Marilyn and aunty Gertrude were involved in a car accident today. Despite being taken to a hospital, both of them did not make it.
I am extremely sorry to tell you this; I know how much you loved your aunts. I also know that we are strong, and we are fighters; we will get through this difficult period together, as a family.
It’s okay to feel sad and to cry, by the way. It’s a very natural reaction, and it is okay.”
This phrase works well because it is straightforward with the children, while giving them a full account of the ordeal; it may need to be edited by the parents as well.
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10“Hey Peter, do you remember uncle Maynard? I have some bad news about him that you need to know.
Uncle Maynard died yesterday. The doctor said that his lung was the cause of death. You know what dying means, right?
It means that God called uncle Maynard back to Heaven, after a long, fruitful life. All good people go to Heaven when they die, and Uncle Maynard was a good man.
He loved you, Peter, and he was very proud of you.”
This phrase is good to use because it breaks the bad news, but it also stops the wound from getting worse by diverting the talk to be more about Heaven and the deceased’s good attributes.
It also uses some personal touch to send the message.
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When a death happens, everyone has to be informed, including the kids. If you are wondering how to tell kids about death of loved ones, you are not alone.
There are many ways to break the news to your children without doing an incredible amount of unwanted harm.
For effective ideas on how to tell kids about death, you can use this list above.