How to Talk to Kids About Death and Grief

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It can be incredibly difficult to talk to your kids about death after the passing of a loved one. Find out how to help your child understand and process grief.

Today is the 14 year anniversary of my brother’s death. We have now spent more time without him than we spent with him. That feels so weird.

A picture of a boy sitting alone in a field with "how to talk to kids about death" in black text.

As a Mom, it’s such a difficult day to explain to my children. It made me realize that processing death is different for everyone especially children.

I have had to learn how to explain death to my wide range of kiddos and also how to continue to help their understanding of it as they grow. It is definitely difficult to talk to your kids about death.

Grief is such a funny thing.

Grief is such a funny thing. It creeps up on you long after you feel like you have a handle on it. After 10 years, I thought I was able to handle things better. Not today though. Never on this day.

You see, Charlotte looks like Teddy. I look at that face every day and I see my brother and that brings me such joy. My heart aches, though, knowing my kids won’t know him on Earth.

They know about him and they know that they will meet him in Heaven one day. We don’t shy away from talking about how he died and how sad it was. We also talk a lot about what he liked and the great kid he was. We named Thea in remembrance of her Uncle Teddy (Theodore).

A picture of a mother with her son and daughter.

I lost my brother when he was 14.

My brother, Teddy, was goofy and kind. He wore my mom’s high-heeled shoes out to get the mail and would strut his stuff all the way down the driveway just to be silly.

My last vivid memory of Teddy is the night before he died. I was finishing up tennis practice and he had just finished baseball practice. He was waiting for me to be done and was playing hacky sack in the school parking lot with the other baseball players.

He always wore his hat tipped up on top of his curly blonde hair. He was so tall and was bouncing the hacky sack and laughing with his face tipped up toward the sky. I stood there and I watched him from the tennis court and I just laughed at him. I can still remember how that moment felt even after 14 years.

A day later, Teddy died in a car accident on his way to the skate park. After a tire blew, my dad’s SUV flipped forward. Teddy was killed immediately and his body was propelled from the vehicle as it flipped several times. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.

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A Letter to My Daughter

We’ve been going through so much lately and I was totally overwhelmed with emotion one night thinking about how the changes in our lives must feel for my beautiful girl, so I wrote her a poem.

How I Talked to My Kids About Death

Death can be a scary thing for kids to process. It’s a great idea to start talking about death as early as possible. It’s easier for a child to process the death of a pet or an animal than a loved one.

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Take a more Emotional, Tender Approach

When Peyton was little, she feared death so much. I bought a book called The Next Place (affiliate link) that helped open a dialogue that she would understand at a young age.

After the death of my Grandmother (we called her Big Grandma even though she was a whopping 100lbs soaking wet), Peyton got a nice picture of a well-lived life filled with lots of family and endless love.

We spent time with her before she died and it really made an impact on Peyton. Peyton understood that she was sick and that she would die soon. We discussed Heaven and explained that Big Grandma had lived a long life and would be going to Heaven soon where Big Grandpa is waiting for her.

Give Them the Facts about Death

Charlotte, who is brilliant beyond her years, is also very emotional, but realistic when presented with the facts. No one has died in our immediate family since Charlotte has been at an age where she understood what was going on.

She randomly brings up Uncle Teddy frequently. In the car, she always asks me about seat belts and sometimes she will just ask me if it makes me sad that my brother died.

I share my feelings with her and she gets a little quiet and sometimes sad. I remind her that it’s okay for people to be sad and it’s also okay for people to be happy and remember their loved ones that have died.

A picture of a young child standing by a grave.

How to Talk to Kids About Death

Things to Do

Each child is unique. You know your child best. Depending on their age and cognitive abilities, you will need to evaluate the age-appropriate way to introduce this sensitive topic for kids.

Communicate Clearly

Use small, easy to understand sentences when explaining death to a young child. This will help them to understand concepts more clearly.

Tell them how you feel

Tell them how you feel. This helps them to feel safe when they see that you, too, are experiencing sadness.

Be patient

Be patient. Let your child process and then talk about how they feel on their own terms.

Things NOT to Do

Don’t Limit Emotions

Don’t tell them to not “feel sad” or “don’t be scared”. Sadness and fear are the appropriate and normal responses to loss.

Don’t hide your Emotions

Don’t hide your emotions by “acting strong”. When kids see you doing this, they will try to copy you and this could lead to them not processing their own feelings.

Don’t Minimize Feelings

Do not compare them or their lives to others. You don’t want to minimize how they are feeling by saying that other people might have it worse. This doesn’t acknowledge the grief that they are feeling and help them to process it.

Work through Grief Together

The key takeaway, in my opinion, is the more comfortable you are when you are communicating with your child, the better they will receive the information. Let them work through their emotions and comfort them.

Let them see you be vulnerable and explain to them that it’s okay to have sad feelings. Let them talk through things and then just reassure them.

Find books to help talk to kids about Death

A picture of a boy sitting alone in a field with "how to talk to kids about death" in black text.

This post was originally published at Our Family Code on March 20, 2018.

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Meet Toni, the Mama behind Get Moving Mama!

toni get moving mama author

I’m a Mama on a mission to get fit both mentally and physically! My hope is to help other Moms find joy in the messiness of motherhood and to build a village of moms who encourage and motivate each other to Get Moving!

When I’m not chasing toddlers or making babies, you can find me blogging here at Get Moving Mama and over at Our Family Code!



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Hey there! I’m Toni! This is my circus and these are my monkeys. I’m powered by coffee and sour candy (and probably a little wine).

When I’m not chasing toddlers or making babies, you can find me blogging here at Get Moving Mama and over at Our Family Code!

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