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Explaining Death

Explaining death to a child should be done with care so that the child is not confused or unnecessarily frightened. A young child may not be able to understand the difference between "gone to heaven" and "gone out of town"-the child may be waiting for the person to return. A family's religious faith can be a great source of strength, but it should be related to a child in a way that he or she can understand. Some religious concepts (for instance, the Christian concept of resurrection) may too abstract to comfort a young child. Likewise, care should be taken when comparing death to familiar events in life. Comparing death to sleep, for instance, can cause a child to fear going to sleep.

Children need honesty about what has happened to help them understand and accept the reality of death. A parent or other caregiver needs to explain what happened to the person who died in a way that the child can understand. It is not necessary to give all the details, and the age and maturity of the child need to be considered. A death due to violence may be especially difficult to explain. A child may hear comments about the death from others and have questions about what really happened. Honesty helps a child understand that it's okay to talk about what happened and helps a child to cope with death. Dealing with what we know can be much easier then dealing with what we don't know.


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