How do you explain death to your child?

How do you explain death to your child?

Last week I found out that a child in the same class as my friends little boy suddenly passed away from suspected meningitis. It’s really been playing on my mind and I can’t stop thinking about that poor family who must be in absolute pieces.

As a first time parent, you are effectively learning on the job as you go along and you constantly worry. Is your baby too hot, too cold? Are they crying because they are hungry – or is it colic? You worry when they become poorly about how high their fever is and debate what warrants taking them A&E.

However, as they grow older you become more confident in your parenting and the worry lessens. Your children are also able to communicate to you what might be wrong.

I know once you’ve had children you will always worry about them no matter what – however big or small the matter may be, but how do you tackle explaining death to a child?

We have very lightly touched upon this subject with E but only as the subject of pets as a couple of my parent’s dogs have passed away. We didn’t want to make too big a fuss over it so simply explained that they had gone to heaven and wouldn’t be coming back. We didn’t use phrases like “gone to a better place” as we didn’t want him to think this place was physical. Also, if we told him it was “better” then he may question why we couldn’t go there too.

Having to explain to your child that a school friend has died must be pretty tough. The fact that they will never see or play with their friend again must be quite a difficult concept to grasp. One minute they are at school and the next… their gone.

My friend told me that her son was understandably very upset but also had lots of questions to ask. He worried that there was no one in heaven to take care of his friend and then worried that the child’s best friend (at school) would now have no one to play with.

I’m not sure at what age children start to question mortality but I am thankful that for now, I don’t have to broach this subject in direct relation to people that my children know. I know that as and when the time comes, I will need to be upfront and honest and try and explain death the best way I can.

Both my boys have been getting extra kisses and cuddles this last week as I am reminded just how lucky I am to have them happy, healthy and a part of my life.


  1. TheBrickCastle

    Our children at 4 and 6 have had to learn what death is and that it’s very permanent. Under 7 children are incredibly matter-of-fact, and wherever you can you have to be truthful, answer all questions with something, even if it’s another question, but maybe sometimes a little economic, and don’t share more than they’re comfortable with. Never tell them the person or animal is sleeping, or has gone away to live in the sky, or anything else that can backfire. We told our children that we don’t know what happens after death, but here are several different theories and any one could be true, and we can’t prove they aren’t. They are both happy with that, and both have made their minds up about what they believe and where their sister is now.

  2. My Dad died when my kids were 5 and 7 so they are very aware of death and what it means. They handle it very well, but the other day my son said ‘did it hurt Grandad when he died’. Which made me really sad 🙁 #brilliantblogposts

    • Thanks for you comment – so sorry to hear about your dad.

      Children are very perceptive about what is going on around them though aren’t they? I guess, even if they didn’t know what was going on they can feel a shift in the way things are. x

  3. This is so hard and it’s a difficult concept to grasp. (Fortunately) we happened to come across a dead mouse in the road when the kids were tiny and we had much discussion about what looked different about dead/alive/asleep. We then saw a dead squirrel and worms etc and we found it really helpful to lead the discussion and to actually show them what dead looked like and they got it. I think kids can worry that they may die in their sleep if you say it’s just like sleeping and they can also worry that they’ll die if they get ill etc. It is all very difficult and I feel so dreadfully sorry for the family in your blog post. Totally ghastly.

    • You are very right about the whole sleeping thing – we have been very careful not to use the “they’ve gone to sleep” phrase. I still can’t get that poor family out of my head. x

  4. Mummy Writes

    When my daughter died two years ago, we were very open with our other two about what happened (5 and 10), after all they pretty much witnessed her death as she died suddenly at home. So we were honest with them, and factual. We believe in God and heaven so we told them that’s where she was, but if you don’t believe anything then just be honest. The book Up in Heaven is a nice one to have at home. It is about a dog that dies and looks over his little boy owner.

  5. Not an easy topic at all and like you we have been privileged to begin opening the subject with pets and then older people. Having to start with explaining a child’s death is much harder. We live locally to where Alice Gross was murdered so have had far more complicated discussions with the older children since. I believe in being honest as possible to the questions they ask and keep answers short and simple. xx

  6. Oh I’m so sorry and sad to read that, it’s so hard for children but being honest is best and to help and support them to grieve. I remember at 13 a girl died of cancer in our year and it hit us all so much-the teachers got us all working towards a concert in her memory and they were there to comfort us. Such a difficult time. Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts x

  7. The poor parents, every parents worst nightmare! I’m very open with my sons and they do understand about death, but luckily for them they have never lost anyone especially close to them whilst they’ve been old enough to remember them, so I’m not sure how they’d react when the time does come, as it sadly will.
    No one should ever outlive their child though, I feel a bit sick at the thought! Stevie x

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