Chapter 4: Preschool children’s grief
Talking about illness, dying, death and grief
“I was away with a flu for three days and when I came back, Jack started to cry. We talked at recess and he thought I was going to die because his dad had also been ‘sick’ when he went to the hospital and then he died and never came back”. -Teacher
Work with the child’s family to help them take an open and honest approach with their young child. Encourage the family to share short, honest statements about what happened. For example, “Your dad died in a car accident”.
Below are various phrases that are helpful when talking to children about illness, dying, death and grief as well as phrases to avoid.
Click on the buttons below to explore what to say and things to avoid saying when talking to children.
Use the correct language, such as “dying”, “died”, “death.”
Avoid euphemisms such as “passed away”, “lost”, and “no longer with us.”
Death can be explained as, “When someone dies their body stops working and will never work again.”
Never refer to death as being like “sleep” because this can make children scared of sleeping.
When the cause of the death is an illness, name the illness (e.g., “cancer”, “ALS”).
Avoid saying only that the person who died was “sick” because young children will become concerned that this will happen anytime someone is “sick”.