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Life After Death

Life After Death

How to talk to your children about losing a loved one

By Keri Mikulski


Death. The word alone stirs up countless emotions, from grief to confusion to anger; but how do you talk to your children about death? Children deal with death best if their parents are equipped with the knowledge to handle this difficult time.

Communication is Key

Open communication is the most important characteristic of a healthy first death experience. When children feel comfortable asking questions, they will open up. Being direct about death, and allowing children an abundance of time to talk, ask questions or share memories, encourages communication.

Kathy Kehoe, LCSW and bereavement counselor at Samaritan Hospice in Marlton, agrees, “Adults can help children to deal with death and dying in age appropriate ways. Communication must be clear, open, honest and expressed in words children can understand. Young children often lack the necessary language skills to convey how they grieve. They will frequently act out their thoughts and emotions in their play.”

During a time of mourning, actions speak louder than words. Children are much more likely to respond to your actions than your words. To learn healthy ways to process their emotions, children should be allowed to grieve with you.

“Parents and loved ones often try to shield children from death and dying experiences which [can] increase their mistrust, confusion and loneliness. Because children lack the maturity and coping skills needed to process such experiences, they rely on the adults in their life to show them the way. Fostering healthy coping skills and providing children with concrete information and resources to deal with death and dying experiences is essential,” Kehoe adds.

Children communicate grief through their behavior and react to death based on their developmental stage.


Death Reactions Based on Development:

Birth to 2 years old: Infants and toddlers sense the change, but have no concept of death. It’s helpful to maintain their routines and provide a safe and secure environment for reassurance.


Ages 2 to 6: Children begin to understand the life cycle. Share your feelings with your child. To help children feel secure, maintain their routine. Also, reading books together at this stage is a wonderful way to open up lines of communication and process feelings.


Ages 6 to 11: At this age, children begin to understand that death is final. It’s crucial to answer any questions children have as honestly as possible, even if you do not know the answer. Open communication is imperative at this stage. Ask children how they feel and listen, listen, listen.


Teen Years: When teenagers have questions about death, they will turn to their peers for answers most of the time. Be hyper vigilant of your teenager’s actions during a difficult time. Set firm limits. If you witness unusual self-destructive behavior, seek counseling.

Every death reaction is individual. There are no right or wrong ways to process the feelings associated with the passing of a loved one. Parents can help their children process their grief feelings by being available, listening and never judging how a child handles the emotions associated with grief.

Kehoe concludes, “Children have much to teach us about life and death. Loved ones must take the time to really listen to what their children are conveying through their words and actions.”

Death is difficult, but there is help available. If you or your child needs additional help dealing with the death of a loved one, check out the books below or contact Samaritan Hospice at 1-800-596-8550 for more information and support.


Recommended Reading for parents:

  • On Children and Death

By Elisabeth Kubler Ross

  • Helping Children Cope with the Loss of a Loved One

By William C. Kroen

  • Talking About Death: A Dialogue Between Parent and Child

By E. Grollman


Recommended Reading for children:

  • Lifetimes

By: B. Mellonie & R. Ingpen

  • I’ll Always Love You

By: Hans Wilhelem

  • Charlotte’s Web

By: E.B. White

  • Missing May

By: Cynthia Rylant





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