Dealing with Death

How to help you and how to help you help the little ones cope and understand death.


How To Talk To Kids About Death: Overview


This is an overview from the 2018 talk, "How To Talk with Kids About Death" Park Slope Parents and Green-wood Cemetery co-sponsored. 


Amy Cunningham The Inspired Funeral

Liana Smith-Murphy, play, child and adolescent therapist at



Age appropriate honesty is important. Kids know more than we think they do. If you’re not honest kids can come up with fantasized explanations of death (“I made grandma get sick and die”). Using concrete things like “X has died. Their body is no longer working” (rather than “Nana is ‘sleeping’” which can freak young kids out and lead to, “when is she going to wake up?”). You can also talk about your beliefs: “Our family believes that after someone dies you go to heaven.”

Let kids ask questions. Many adults have issues about talking about death so kids can believe it’s not okay to talk about being sad or the death. Everyone experiences death differently.

Ask kids questions and listen. “What do you think happens when you die?” “How are you feeling?” Know that sadness, anger and maybe relief are natural emotions to be feeling.

Any child old enough to love is old enough to grieve. Grieving is not a pathology that we need to “fix.” There are ebbs and flows in grieving. Also know that kids (young kids especially) can’t take a lot of intense sadness at once. If they seem really sad but then seem to be happy, that’s normal. If kids are running around laughing at the funeral remember—they’re just kids! Oh, and don’t assume that the death of a pet isn’t as upsetting as the death of a person.

How does age effect how kids deal with death? Of course it depends on the child, but generally…

  • Kids under 7 don’t understand the permanence of death; they are egocentric and full of magical thinking. Things like “grandpa has gone to heaven and will look down on us” can lead to “grandpa is always watching me.”
  • Kids 9-12 or so have more awareness of death and can comprehend ideas about an afterlife.

Inform the kids’ school that there’s been a death and ask they can keep an eye on your child. Kids are sensitive to being “different” so may not want to talk about death with their friends, teachers or school counselors.

Letting kids get involved can help them process their grief. Don’t force them to help; offer but don’t push (follow their lead). Decorating the cremation box (which is cardboard), shovel soil into the grave, help spread the ashes, write letters to the deceased for the coffin or cremation box, or write a story/obituary about the deceased. If they want to look at an open casket that’s okay. Ask if they want to speak at the funeral (if appropriate).

Honor the dead with rituals

  • Light a candle
  • Do something special on the birthday of the deceased
  • Make a memory box/scrapbook of their life that you can bring out during holidays
  • Tell stories about the deceased to keep their memory alive

(Here are some other we've researched)

  • Make their favorite meal
  • Visit their grave and bring flowers
  • Watch their favorite movie, read their favorite book, listen to their favorite music
  • Plant a memorial tree, buy a memorial bench
  • Keep an item of clothing that they have in your closet

Lean on others (friends, family, therapists) for your own grieving. If you are not okay you can’t be present for your kids. All of the things mentioned above can also help you (e.g., rituals, processing, etc.)

Here’s the Children’s Booklist by the National Home Funeral Alliance that has a bunch of different books that help explain death to kids of different ages. The book Milestones was one that the speakers mentioned specifically.


Death of a Pet

Advice about helping a child deal with the death of a pet. This article contains several different scenarios of what members experienced.

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Death of a Loved One

Advice about handling the passing of a grandparent.

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How to help a child afraid of death

Advice from parents about how to talk to children about dying

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Reaching "The End"

What do you do when your kids figure out that life ends?

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Should kids view an open casket?

Should you let kids view an open casket?

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Euthanizing a pet

Experiences of putting a beloved pet to sleep.

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Talking to your kids about a school shooting (UPDATED with more resources)

This was written in response to the school shooting in Connecticut .

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Should children go to a funeral?

Should children go to a funeral of a loved one?

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Helping Children Deal with the Death of a Parent

 A parent recently seekws advice on how to comfort her young niece and nephew after their father died in a freak accident. Here are some of the thoughts and suggestions from PSP Members.

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Be sure to read the PSP article, Explaining Death To Children, which covers more general advice about loss and recovery.



Meaningful Memorial Gifts

Ideas for memorial gifts that are more than flowers or a donation.

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Members Advice: Support after a baby's death

PSP members offer advice for dealing and supporting a loved one who lost a child.

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Resources to Help Children Deal With Death of a Parent

Resources for kids who have experienced the death of a parent

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