What Are The Best Words To Use To Explain Death To Kids? Published February 28, 2020 Death isn’t easy for adults to comprehend, and it’s even less so for children. When adults are faced with the heartbreaking task of informing a child that a loved one or pet has died, it can be extremely hard to find the right words. Our inclination as adults is to shield children from harm and the harsh realities they will sometimes have to face, but when it comes to dealing with death, we get a little lost on what’s best. Having the right words to help a child process this huge life event is essential. Since words carry so much emotion, what are the best ones to use? Professionals confirm that giving kids clear and concise words to understand and process death is best. That’s why we’ve rounded up some of the most direct and helpful words so when you have to face this awful situation, you’re at least aware of what you can say. When delivering the news of a loved one’s death, it is tempting to lessen the blow as much as possible. Saying they “passed on” or “went to a better place” admittedly sounds so much better than a blunt “grandmom died,” but when it comes to talking to kids, using the clearer die or died is the better approach. Clear, concise concepts are easier for little minds to grasp. The fact that someone died and won’t be coming back is easier to understand than the abstract concept of passing and impermanence. If you’re not convinced, perhaps you’ll take comfort in the language behind the word. Die means “end,” a matter-of-fact state of being and has been used since the 1100s, so there is nothing wrong, incorrect, or inappropriate happening when that word is used. The conversation about death with a child is going to go far beyond the initial discussion. After delivering the news, you’re going to need the right language to deal with their feelings, and the biggest feeling they will likely have is grief. Grief is defined as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret,” but emotionally it manifests differently for everyone. A person in the throes of grief may feel like no one understands their pain, but this concept dates back to the 1100s as well. Stemmed from grever, meaning to “afflict, burden, oppress,” grief at its root is fairly all encompassing. It is worth it to explain what it could mean to children. Following the death of a loved one, a child might be struggling to identify some of their big feelings. By explaining to them that they are experiencing grief, they may feel a little solace in knowing that the feeling has a name. Grief is a real thing, and everyone experiences it in some way. In the days following the death of a loved one, children will often ask when that person or pet is coming back. They aren’t doing it to be cruel—they just have a limited understanding of the finality of death. That’s why you’ll want to explain the reality of permanence. The word means “existing perpetually; everlasting, especially without significant change,” but you can simplify by saying: Grandmom died, and death is a permanent thing, meaning she can never come back. Even though that may seem harsh in writing, your tone and how you follow that sentence (with actions or more explainer words) will help make this less intense. Every culture has a different process for laying someone to rest, but the common thread between them is some kind of funeral service. Technically, a funeral is “the ceremony for a dead person prior to cremation or burial,” and it is up to an adult to determine if it is appropriate for a child to attend. Explicitly explaining what a funeral is to a child, including any culturally significant details, and why they may have to attend it, will help them understand why it is necessary. Here’s another word you may decide to include here: closure (“a sense of psychological certainty or completeness”). Even if you choose not to have your children attend funeral services, a small remembrance of good memories at home can support children as they achieve the closure that funeral services often help adults find. There isn’t much of a silver lining to losing a loved one, but the brightest spots in the midst of a personal tragedy are the memories we cultivated with the person who died. To have a memory or memories means having “the mental capacity or faculty to retain and revive facts, events, impressions, etc.” from interactions we’ve had in our lifetimes. Memories help children retain a part of the person or pet they lost and can be a great source of comfort. Should a child express grief or sadness about their loss, try saying something like Anytime you miss grandmom, you can sit and remember all of the memories you two made together. Depending upon the dead person’s wishes, cremation may be something a family will have to discuss. As adults, we understand that cremation means “to reduce a dead body to ashes by fire,” and those remains are kept in an urn. For a kid, there isn’t a word in that sentence that doesn’t sound scary. It’s an especially good idea to let them know what cremation is if the urn is going back to the home. You can simply say Grandmom got cremated, meaning they turned her body into ashes so we could take her home with us. Don’t worry, she didn’t feel any pain, this is what she wanted to happen after she died. Similarly, explaining a burial to a child can also sound quite scary. The sentences above work well in this case too (swapping cremation for burial). Cemeteries have a rap for being “creepy,” but for mourners, they can truly be places of peace. Part of the word’s history is rooted in the Greek word koimeterion, which means “sleeping place, dormitory,” which is more palpable for young kids. If your loved one wanted to be buried in a cemetery, you can explain to the child that it is a place you go when you die. You can also tell that child it is a place to “visit” their loved one and feel especially close to them if they are having a hard day or struggling. An event like death can stir up a ton of different emotions, but sometimes a child won’t be aware of what they all are. If you or your family are religious, it is the perfect time to reinforce the idea of holding onto faith. Faith is the concept of “believing in something without having tangible proof,” and in a time in which it can be hard to prove that things will get better, faith can really carry a family through. Many religious faiths have a belief that after death we pass on to a greater plain of existence, and it can be very comforting for kids to know their loved one is at peace.