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When a loved one dies, it is hard to know how to explain this to your children and help them cope with their grief. What children know and understand about death is different based on their age, life experiences, and individual personalities. Even though there are differences in each child's understanding and reactions to death, a few basic ground rules are helpful when having these difficult conversations. Parents can:
For children younger than 5 years, it is important to explain death in very basic and concrete terms. It may even be necessary to explain that being dead means that the body does not work anymore and this means that the person will not be coming back. Avoid using phrases like the loved one “went away” or “went to sleep” or that the person is “lost.” These phrases may make the child scared to go to sleep or scared if someone leaves the house.
Moreno MA, Furtner F, Rivara FP. When a Loved One Dies. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(3):296. doi:https://doi.org/10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.8
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