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LEADER RESOURCE 2: Tips for Talking with Children about Death

  • It is important to model to children that it is okay to talk about death. Affirm their feelings, questions, and comments without judgment. Respond honestly with simple but realistic language. Assure them you are open to talking with them and answering their questions.
  • Listen carefully to children's questions. Make sure you understand what is being asked before you offer an answer. When you have answered simply but honestly, give children the opportunity to either accept the answer or ask another question.
  • Avoid flooding children with too much information. Watch for cues that they have heard enough or are having a strong emotional reaction to the conversation.
  • Avoid euphemisms. For example, "went to sleep" might confuse children and cause them to be afraid of sleeping.
  • Affirm that there are many different beliefs about death and as Unitarian Universalists we think people are free to choose their own beliefs.
  • It's okay to say, "I don't know."
  • Reassure children that they and the people who take care of them are likely to live for a very long time (unless, of course, the person in question is very ill). Be careful, however, not to make any promises. We expect to live for a long time, but we cannot promise that.
  • If a child refers to someone who is ill, very old, or dying, you can acknowledge their observation and state that we do not know exactly what will happen or when. Reassure the child by referencing the people who are caring for the person who is ill, as well as naming the people who will take care of the child.
  • Do not be surprised if the child moves quickly between topics, first speaking about death and then changing the subject to something entirely unrelated. A child may need time to process their thoughts or may need emotional distance from the topic. They will often come back to the conversation when they are ready.

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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