Helping a Child Prepare for the Death of a Loved One

What should I tell my children?

We often tend to underestimate children. The immediate response from caring family members is to protect the children from bad news. Unfortunately, this only produces high levels of anxiety for children. Depending on the age of the child, the fear of the unknown may produce more stress than the actual news that a parent, grandparent, or sibling is dying. Including children in the dying process will eliminate any unwanted fear. Talk openly and honestly with your children. Our hospice staff can supply you with relevant resources and supportive counseling regarding this issue.

How much should I tell my children?

How much or how little you discuss with your child should depend on his/her age and prior experiences. Children of varying ages will need different levels of information. With younger children it is recommended that you speak about the impending death in simple terms. As the child's age increases so should the amount of information that you share about the illness or impending death. Make sure you are honest about the situation and use appropriate terms, such as "dying" and "death."

How can I involve my children?

Ask your children how they want to be involved. Allow them to set the pace for how much or how little they want to be involved in the care of their loved one. The more the children are involved in the caregiving needs, the less likely they will have problems accepting the death. Of course they will be sad when their loved one dies, but because you have involved them in the care it will be easier for them to accept. After the death it is important to also include children in all of the family rituals.

How can I make this easier for my children?

There may be no easy way to approach the reality of death with your children. The children will depend on you to make sure that they will be taken care of. Acknowledge their fears and allow them to express their feelings openly. Children often tend to hide their feelings in order to protect their loved ones. Make sure you provide a safe place for the children to talk about their feelings.

Other tips for helping children through this process:

  • Speak in age appropriate terms.
  • Be open and honest about what is going on.
  • Identify available resources.
  • Talk with the children's teachers and keep them updated on the situation.
  • Encourage the children to talk about their feelings but avoid forcing them to talk.
  • Take cues from your children.
  • Be there when they want to share feelings or to just find some security by curling up in your arms.
  • When appropriate, include the children in the caregiving.
  • Encourage the children to share how best to help them through this journey.
  • Try to maintain as much "normalcy" in the children's daily activities.
  • Don't force a child into doing something they don't want to do (such as go to a basketball game). Remember they may be afraid to leave their loved one.
  • If time permits, allow the children to have time to say their goodbyes.
  • Find some quiet time for the children to spend with you and their dying loved one.


Local resources for grieving children:

Erin's House for Grieving Children (Fort Wayne)
Ryan's Place (Goshen)

United Way
We Honor Veterans
Kosciusko Help Center
Medication and Dental Assistance
Indiana 211 Partnership, Inc.