How do I talk to children and young people?

It can be difficult to know how to talk about the end of life with children or grandchildren. Some people worry that they may frighten or upset them. On this page, we describe what you can do to help you talk to children about dying and death.

Talking to children about death and dying

Young people and children may have questions about what is happening and want to express their thoughts and feelings. Some children, particularly young ones, will need adults to prompt conversations around death and dying. You could do this by talking openly about the person who is dying and if they want to know more about it. Marie Curie has useful page of starting point questions children may ask and suggestions for how you could answer them.

They may also have questions about the future. Who will look after them? What will happen at the funeral and can they be involved? Take time to reassure them and offer any emotional support they need.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your doctor, nurse, or social worker. Schools often have counsellors who can help children who are likely to experience bereavement or who have experienced bereavement. You might also have access to local childhood bereavement services.

It can be important for children to see their loved one after death as it helps them understand the person is now gone. You can address this by asking the child if they would want to see the person after they have died, when the time is felt to be close. This can help with later grieving.

There are lots of books and resources for children experiencing loss before and after a loved one dies. Marie Curie has suggestions for both children and teenagers of books that deal with death and grief.

My daughter and her family visited us every Sunday. Maggie was 13 and Tom was 9 when granddad died. We had told them that granddad was very ill and that he might not be with us much longer. We also explained he might suddenly have a problem. They were involved in his care - Maggie was in charge of hugs for granddad and Tom turned the oxygen concentrator up and down as asked. They both reminded him very loudly to take his pills at mealtimes.

They visited on the last morning of granddad’s life. They both coped well and came to the funeral. Tom did say a year later that he didn’t really believe granddad was dead until the funeral. There don’t seem to be any long-lasting effects, perhaps because we were so open about what was happening. There are photos of granddad around the house and we often discuss whether he would have liked something and how proud he was of his grandchildren.

Read next: Spirituality and the meaning of life

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