Breaking the News to a Child About a Deceased Loved One
by Taylor Evans December 14, 2021 4 min read
Unfortunately, death doesn't take the impact of losing a loved one into account. For a child, understanding the loss of a loved one is complicated. Depending on the child's age, they may not grasp the fact that their loved one isn't coming back.
Parents or guardians who have to break the news to a child that their loved one died will find the process to be an emotional rollercoaster.
How to Talk to a Child about the Death of a Loved One
First and foremost, there's no right or wrong way to break this news to a child. You'll find that death is difficult at any age, and there's no telling how a child will react. Instead, what we recommend, is to change your approach when breaking the news.
Breaking the news that a parent died will be much different from explaining that a distant cousin died.
Breaking the News That a Parent, Sibling or Close Relative Passed
Close relatives have an impact on a child's life. These individuals can be:
- Aunts or Uncles
When a close relative passes away, the child is very likely to grieve. Memories of the person will fill a child's mind just like they do for an adult. Older children will often deal with these emotions more than a younger child.
For younger children, they'll often grieve the loss of a parent or sibling in their own way.
Many children will question why the person passed or why they didn't get as much time with the person as another child.
Sibling and parent losses are often the most impactful. The child will often show signs of depression or re-experience the loss on holidays or birthdays when the person had a major impact on their lives.
You'll want to:
- Remain calm. Reassure the child that the person loved and cared for them and explain the death in as simple of terms as possible.
- Listen to your child's feelings and be a pillar of support for them.
- Explain your own feelings to your child.
Often, you'll want to try and be "strong" for the child, but you need to show the child that they're not alone in their thoughts and feelings. One method that works very well is to explain your feelings to the child.
For example, "Billy, I will miss daddy, too. I am sad. He loved you so much..."
Any discussion about death isn't going to be easy, but it's a talk that you'll inevitably have with a child. Unfortunately, you'll find that no matter how many times you have a similar talk or read articles about what to say or do, death is always a topic that is hard to discuss.
Remain calm, try to hold your composure and be there to answer the child's questions about death and to console them in the future.
Breaking the News That a Distant Relative Passed
Distant connections have less of an impact on a child in most cases. These individuals often have a big impact on mom and dad, but your child may not remember or know much about them.
However, this doesn't mean that you cannot keep their memories alive.
For example, if the person was your best friend or even a great-grandparent, you should reflect on how they impacted your life and mention them fondly.
When it comes to breaking the news to the child, it will often be easier if the child doesn't know the person as much. You can:
- Explain to the child that the person has died
- Discuss that they will no longer see the person
- Recount fond memories
- Explain the events that will take place at the funeral
Remember that your child may not have the same emotions that you have for a distant relative simply because the person didn't have the same impact on their lives as they did on your life.
However, if you want the child to know the good that the person brought to others and how they changed your life, explain it to them.
Recounting stories and speaking highly of the person is a great way to "keep them alive."
Additional Things to Consider When Breaking the News
Depending on the child's age, some of the points below may or may not be acceptable. You'll need to use your own discretion to determine whether these points are good in your unique situation. A few of the things to consider doing are:
- Explain what will happen at the funeral. Tell the child what they can expect, if there will be food and what they can expect during the event. If you plan to offer cremation jewelry or pendants for ashes tell the child so that they know what to expect.
- Give the child a role in the funeral, such as gathering photos of the person or reading a poem in front of everyone. Sharing and being involved will help the child make sense of the grief that they're experiencing.
- Reassure the child in the weeks or months ahead. Comforting the child when they're sad and becoming an outlet for the child will allow them to get over the person's death with greater ease.
- Give the child a memento of the person or some way to remember them. Sterling silver cremation jewelry is a great option so that the child can keep their loved one close to them always.
Healing from the loss of a loved one takes time, but it's up to you to be there for the child, comfort them and help them feel better. If the person's loss leaves a major void in the child's life, try to fill this void with fun activities.
Cook with the child, engage with them and find ways to connect.
When all else fails, it may be time to seek additional help. Most children will heal over time and start to return to their old selves.
However, other children may lash out, become severely depressed and may even harm themselves. Therapy is available and recommended when a child's emotions, outbursts and sadness do not subside after a few weeks.
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