Death & bereavement How to talk about... Talking to children about death and dying Children need information, reassurance, involvement and the opportunity to express feelings. They need to know what has happened and to be told the truth. If at all possible it is preferable that information comes from you. Children can overhear conversations and become confused and anxious, this anxiety can make them reluctant to ask questions, they may then use their imagination compounding their confusion. Help them recognise that death is a natural part of life and to appreciate that some things in life can never be fully explained. Also that grown-ups do not always have the answers (e.g. if God is good, why do bad things happen?). Remember it is not always necessary or possible to have all the answers. Use straightforward words like dead and dying, using a word such as loss may lead children to think that the person is wandering around somewhere unable to find their way home. It may also lead them to think that the person can be found.Talking to a child about death does not make things worse, ignoring it can be isolating for the bereaved child. It is important to be open and honest with children at an age appropriate level, you may find it helpful to read our information about the way in which children of different ages may understand death and bereavement. Listen to your child and encourage them to talk. Even very young children can understand that someone important is missing and need to have this explained to them. Help them to understand that it is OK to cry and to show difficult feelings. Help them to find ways of doing this that are not disruptive or destructive, they may express feelings through difficult behaviour and probably at times when you feel least able to cope with it. It can be positive to share your grief with them, as long as you don’t expect them to look after you as much as you look after them. Remember that their experience of bereavement may differ from yours, this does not mean that one of you is right and the other wrong. Children can switch off from grief and then switch on again later. This may seem strange to an adult who feels that they are themselves stuck for a long time in one mood. Give them the information they need to begin to understand the bereavement. Don’t flood them with unnecessary details, but pace it according to their interest and need. Share books and talk about the information in them. Try to avoid keeping secrets from them, let them know what is happening and allow them to contribute to decision making. Children may want to be involved in decisions about the design of a headstone, other commemorative tributes and sorting through possessions. Keep in touch with your child’s school and share information with their teachers to enable them to be more supportive in the classroom. It may be that your child’s memory, concentration and performance at school might be affected in the short-term.