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How to Talk About Death With a Child

Question:

My seven-year-old child has a best friend in the final stages of a long battle with cancer. How do we tell her and her 10 year-old brother that the friend is dying and won't be with us much longer? They know he is sick but are unaware how little time remains. Any advice would greatly be welcomed.

Answer:

This information is included in our Guide to Parenting through Crisis. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

We appreciate you emailing us. Death and dying is never an easy subject to discuss, especially where young children are concerned. However, the family values that you hold dear can be a source of strength and comfort as you share this difficult news with your children.

If your family is one that has spiritual beliefs, you may want to try talking with them from a spiritual perspective. Children are very receptive to messages of love and peace when it comes to the lives of others. You can also try opening the conversation with a "What if..." question and see how they respond. Allow them to share their thoughts and feelings and to ask questions. Give answers in words they will understand and don’t be afraid to use stories, as children are receptive to stories and illustrations.

Encourage them to celebrate their friend’s life after he’s gone by creating a memory/scrapbook, planting a tree or making a small donation they raise themselves to the hospital or cancer organization in his honor. The goal is to understand that even though their friend may have left this world physically, his spirit can live on through them.

If you'd like more advice about this situation or anything else, call us 24/7 at 1-800-448-3000.

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