How to explain death to siblings and help them cope
1. Let them talk. Listen
2. Know that they may not want to talk. Let them know it is ok to ask
questions or talk when they feel ready.
3. Find out what they want to know.
4. Answer the questions they ask honestly. Use words they can understand.
Never lie. Lying can make the grieving worse and be confusing. Children
have strong imaginations. A child's mind will fill in missing information.
They also come up with their own conclusions and interpretations of what
happened. If you don't know an answer, don't be afraid to say you don't
know. If it's something you can find out, find out together.
5. Answer with facts. Separate what is known and what is believed. Ask kids
what they think happened. Use concrete words like "died", "death", "dying"
and "dead". Children have no emotional response to the word death. It is a
word that may be new to them, but explains the situation. Using phrases like
"passed away", "lost", "gone", "sleeping" or "in heaven" can cause confusion
for children who do not know that death is permanent. They think the
deceased person will wake up, or come back. It may lead to a fear of falling
6. Keep your answers short make sure you answered what they were asking.
7. Be patient. Anyone dealing with grief needs time to understand what
happened and adjust. Children may ask the same question over and over.
They can also be overwhelmed one moment, and giggly and playful the
8. Respect different styles of grieving. Forget the stages of grief. Not
everyone goes through all the stages the same way. Many people can feel
all stages at once. Feelings can fade and come back throughout their lives,
especially during different stages of development.
Offer time to write, draw, or do other art projects. This may help them to
express feelings they may not have words for.
9. Offer time for physical activity. This can help release excess energy &
10. Use support staff. They have books and other information they can share
with you to help talk to your child.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 07/30/2013
Copyright © 07/30/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#7533
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