Explaining What Happened

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Magical Thoughts

It’s common for young children to have difficulty separating fact from chance.

Your child might say…

  • “If I didn’t get mad at Daddy the day before, he wouldn’t have died.”
  • “If I’m a good girl, maybe I can bring Daddy back.”

In response, you might say…

  • “Nothing you did caused Daddy to die.”
  • “Even though we can’t bring Daddy back, his memory can live on in our hearts.”

While adults have a greater understanding that death is part of a cycle, young children often do not have this same level of understanding. They need your guidance through this most difficult time. Since each child and situation is unique, a parent’s way of discussing death can vary. Here are some tips that might help you:

  • Explain what death is. Try to be as concrete as possible. For example, you might say, “When a person dies, his or her body stops working. The heart stops beating and the body stops moving, eating, and breathing.”
  • Explain that death is permanent. Children may not realize that death is permanent. They may ask questions or make statements, such as “When is Daddy coming back?” or “I am going to show Mommy my new picture.”
  • Avoid euphemisms. Try to use terms such as “died” and “dead.” Although such phrases as “went to sleep,” “your loss,” and “passed away” may seem gentler, they may also be confusing. Young children often think literally; they may think that by looking hard enough, a “lost” parent could be found.
  • Be honest. Talking gently, yet openly with your child can create a comforting environment that allows her to ask questions and freely express thoughts and feelings.

Next: Expressing Feelings


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