Informing Children about the Death of a Loved One

WHO

Children should be informed about a death by their parents. If this is not possible, then another adult to whom they feel close should inform them.

WHEN
Inform children of a death immediately. This reduces the risk of them hearing the news from the wrong person, at the wrong time, or in the wrong place.

WHERE
Inform children in familiar surroundings, preferably at home.

HOW
Think about the age of the child and any past experiences that may affect or help with their understanding of what has occurred.
• Speak with a calm, natural tone of voice.
• Share your feelings. However, if you are extremely upset, try waiting until you have calmed down some so the child
doesn’t become frightened.
• Be honest and truthful, using correct terminology, i.e., cancer; died.
• Avoid euphemisms, i.e., gone away, sleeping, eternal rest, lost, etc.
• Allow the child to lead, encourage him/her to ask questions, and answer only what the child is asking.
Avoid giving unnecessary details.
• Meet the individual needs of the child and allow him/her to express feelings. The child may become angry, need to
cry, need to be alone, or need a hug.

This is an adaptation of an article by Kenneth Doka appearing in Children Mourning, Mourning Children published by Hospice Foundation of America, 1995. Reference: Helping Children Understand Death. Cooperative Extensions Service, Ohio State University