Whether it is the death of a pet, a grandparent or hearing about death in the news; talking with children about death is never easy... perhaps these ideas can help:
1. Talk about the death. Do not be afraid to talk about death with children. Kids are smart. They will realize things have changed. Be honest concerning your feelings with children as well. 2. Model behavior of grief: Children learn many things by mimicking behavior around them. Grieving in front of children will help them learn they can cry, laugh and be themselves when they are sad. 3. Going to the funeral: Explain what will happen. Answer children's questions the best you can, it will help their curiosity and ease their anxiety if they know what will happen. 4. Talk to your children's teachers: Let them know that there has been a death in the family. Teachers can be alert to the changing behavior and patterns of the child and assist them. Realize responses may not be immediate or obvious. It may take weeks or months before a child displays signs of the full impact of a death. 5. Provide an element of safety and reassurance: Maintain routines as much as possible. Show affection and assurance that the child is loved and will not be abandoned. There are many books that can be used to answer children's questions about death... it is not like sleeping, etc... 6. Use exact terms: Use the words die and death. Do not use passing, go to sleep, lost; tell exactly how it happened to alleviate fears. "The heart stopped beating" or the person had cancer of the liver. Otherwise children may think they caused the death or it will happen to them. 7. Color and Draw: Give children an outlet to express their emotions. Drawing can help put emotions to paper. Find constructive outlets for the child to express anger, frustration, pain and grief. Role playing, exercising and participating in music are all ways to physical release the strong emotions of death. 8. Grief differs by age: Infants don't relize a death has occurred, but changes in feeding tiems, caregivers and nap times can cause irritability and an increased need for attention. Preschoolers tend to see death as temporary and reversible. Cartoon characters miraculously return after being squashed, so they may ask "when is Grandma going to be done being dead and come back?" Elementary school children see death as not fair; because it breaks the rules they are are learning about. Middle school children want facts and information on how death occurs. High schoolers have intense emotions and may distort the limits of life; taunting death in an attempt to know the limits of their control. 9. Reassure children that they aren't going to die: They did not cause the death and are nor responsible for it by their behavior or thoughts. Emphasize to them that this particular death does not mean that they or someone else they love will die soon. 10. Let the child guide the process: Answer their questions opening and honestly, but only give them the information they ask for. Do not give them more information than they request; they will ask more questions when they are ready.
The documents below include a list of books helpful for children and youth to deal with grief (many of which are available for loan from church) ; a list of questions kids typcially ask and possible answers, and an article on how to talk with children about death: