MARCH 13, 2023

To the children about non-childish things. How to inform a child correctly about the death of a close person

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  • 1. What is the meaning of loss and grief?
  • 2. How to bring the sad news and explain to the child what death is.
  • 3. How do the adults experience grief in the presence of a child?
  • 4. How do we help a child to cope with the sad news?
The death of a close person can cause shock to the adults. It is a stressful event. The children who encounter the loss of a close person can get a psychological trauma which is going to influence their further development and life quality.
How do we explain what death is to a child so that they understand, but at the same time not to cause trauma to their psyche? Let us try to sort it out.

What is the meaning of loss and grief?

Every person associates loss with something which is impossible to retrieve back. Loss and grief are intermingled when it goes about the death of a close or familiar person. It is impossible to overcome this state on one’s own, especially when the realization comes that it has happened, that the person is never going to return.

Children can have various reactions to death. It depends on the age, psychological condition and individual peculiarities. There are age peculiarities of experiencing loss by the children. Little children aged under 5 years old don’t understand yet that death is forever. They can repeatedly ask questions about when the deceased person is going to return, show aggression, or, vice versa, demand constant attention. Their behaviour can endlessly change. The children who have turned 6 years old are able to realize that death is an irriversible phenomenon. They can begin to worry that other close people and aqcuaintances might also die, and thus they can ask a lot of questions to the adults. Sometimes they behave aggressively because of the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
The teenagers who have turned 12 years old realize what death means. Their reaction can vary – from apathy to aggression. In some cases the attention concentration disorders are observed.
It is important for the adults to understand that there is no «right» way of going through tragic events. The reaction depends on the relationship of the child with the deceased person and on the level of their closeness.

How to bring the sad news and explain to the child what death is?

And still, how do we talk to the child about death? It is important not to conceal the sad news from the child. Surely, every adult wants to keep the child safe and protect them from the tragic events and heavy emotional experience. But we shouldn’t postpone bringing the news. When you tell the child the whole truth, you are strengthening the feeling of trust between you. And it is much easier to go through such an event together.

What is the necessary algorithm of actions?
  1. Ask the child to sit down with you in a quiet and safe place. If the child is little, let them take their favourite toy or a blanket with them.
  2. Think well about what exactly you are going to say. Try to speak slowly and calmly in order to give the child time to understand you.
  3. You should be the same sensitive and honest with the older child, try to speak tenderly. The language should be clear; it is desirable to avoid complicated expressions.

It is important to give the child time to reflect on the news. If it seems to you that the child is not listening, you should summon your patience and wait for their full attention. The adults should be ready to the little child asking the same questions during at least a week. You should be attentive to the child. Some little ones can develop the feeling of guilt: they might think that some of their acions or words caused the death of the close person. It is important to make sure that the child is not feeling responsible or guilty for what has happened. Explain everything in simple words trying to calm them down. It is natural that the child will feel anxiety or fear. 


Adults, the same as children, go through grief in a variety of ways. A lot depends on their psychic and emotional condition, their relationship with the deceased. How do the adults experience grief in the presence of a child without harming the child’s psyche?
It is normal for the adults to express sadness in front of the children. This way the adults express their attitude to the deceased, show their grief, sadness and longing. It is desirable to explain to the child that one shouldn’t conceal their feelings. You are together, so it is easier to go through grief together than alone.

How do we help a child to cope with the sad news?

It is sure to be very difficult, but there are several methods which can help the child understand and go through the tragic news.
  • Mourning. It will give you a chance to reflect on the loss and say goodbye to the deceased. It is important to explain to the child that despite the fact that the deceased person is not going to return, they will still stay close in your thoughts and memories, because the spiritual ties stay forever. The child can draw a picture or recite a poem or say some words addressed to the deceased. 
  • Daily schedule. However hard it may be, you should adhere to your usual daily schedule, remembering to tidy up the rooms, doing the physical exercises, going on regular walks to familiar favourite places, etc. It is important to involve the child into various types of activity. 
  • Tenderness and care. The child is going to need a lot of attention during this time, they should not be locked inside oneself.
  • If the child shows aggression, do not punish them for it. They are trying to show what they cannot express with words in this way. It is important to support them in their emotions and calm them down.
  • It is important to inform the educational or day care institution where the child is studying about the loss, so that they get emotional support and understanding there too.
And despite everything it is important to take care of your own emotional condition too. It is necessary to find the time for rest, get enough sleep and healthy food, go for walks. It is also desirable to see a qualified person for emotional support of join the group therapy at the Platform “Sunshine At Home”.
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