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Explaining Death to Preschoolers

By Charles Hopkins Published 04/24/2006 | Parenting
Perhaps one of the hardest lessons a parent is forced to teach their child is the lesson of life and death. It is going to happen - a family friend, a relative or a pet will die - but how should a parent best explain this to a young child without frightening them? Should young children be spared the pain of knowing?


Experts tend to agree that the best way to handle death - no matter how young - is to tell the truth.

Many parents hope to protect their children from the grief they are personally experiencing by telling them that a relative has gone on a trip, or a pet has run away. However, children pick up on the emotions of others and may become insecure about the possible 'disappearance' of other loved ones.

Sharing your grief by telling your child the pet or loved one has died permits them to grieve as well. They will not blame themselves for the loss if it is explained the pet or person was old or ill. While you do not have to go into details you should reassure your child that sickness like that is not common and you and they are probably not going to get that sick. If the person was old tell your child that you will be around for a long, long time and they don't have to worry.

If a pet dies from old age be sure to let them know pets don't live as long as people.


While you may or may not go into details about your beliefs at this point try not to use euphemisms that could confuse your child. 'Passed on', 'went to sleep' or 'put down' are likely to frighten a child - possibly creating the impression they could also die in sleep.

You want to save your children from this experience, but it is unlikely they will not sense your grief. They need to know they are not responsible for the event or your sadness. Keeping your explanation simple but honest will remove fear while still letting your child acknowledge their feelings. Be prepared for a variety of responses and do not force your expectations on to them. Very young children may respond more to your grief than the actual event.

Young children are also sensitive to changes in routine. Making as few changes as possible will help them cope and teach them that life still goes on and that, in time, the pain will lessen. function SubmitRating(btn) { ratingchecked = false; if (btn.form.aRating0.checked) ratingchecked = true; if (btn.form.aRating1.checked) ratingchecked = true; if (btn.form.aRating2.checked) ratingchecked = true; if (btn.form.aRating3.checked) ratingchecked = true; if (btn.form.aRating4.checked) ratingchecked = true; if (ratingchecked) { btn.form.btnRating.value=btn.value; btn.form.submit(); } else { alert("Be sure a rating value has been selected to continue."); } }