Skip to content


    Attention All WebMD Community Members:

    These message boards are closed to posting. Please head on over to our new WebMD Message Boards to check out and participate in the great conversations taking place:

    Your new WebMD Message Boards are now open!

    Making the move is as easy as 1-2-3.

    1. Head over to this page:

    2. Choose the tag from the drop-down menu that clicks most with you (and add it to any posts you create so others can easily find and sort through posts)

    3. Start posting

    Have questions? Email us anytime at [email protected]

    Explaining Death to Young Children
    Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP posted:
    Unfortunately, everything that is alive will one day die. Teaching children about death in an age appropriate manner is not only OK, it's important. I'll confess that I hid the death of our goldfish, Goldy, from my boys when they were 3 and 5. Goldy passed away at a friend's house while we were on vacation. The boys never asked and I decided not to bring it up. But when Great Grandma died, we knew it was time to start talking.

    With young children, the goal is to be direct and truthful. Young children only need bits and pieces of information, as that is how they learn and process. Answer questions simply and don't offer up a long explanation or more information than they need. "Great Grandma was very, very old. And sometimes, when you get old, your body stops working and you die." Try to avoid connecting death with sleep or sickness. You don't want your child to be fearful that when he goes to sleep at night he might not wake up. Or the next time he has a cold he might die.

    Your child may ask if you are going to die. It's fine to reassure her that you will be with her for a very, very long time. You want her to feel safe and secure, especially at a time when your family is grieving.

    You also need to feel comfortable with your own reaction over the death of a loved one in order to help your child. It is OK for your child to see you cry when you feel sad. This will make it easier for him to do the same. And taking care of yourself will provide you with the ability to take care of him.

    My husband and I discussed for hours how and when we would tell our 3 and 5 year old that Great Grandma had died.

    "There's something that we need to talk about as a family…Great Grandma is dead," my husband said. It actually went much better than we had imagined.

    "When you are dead your body doesn't work anymore," my 5-year-old said.

    My 3-year-old said, "You can't see, or hear, or use any of your 5 senses. You're like a doll. You're dead." And then he lay down on the ground. Well, they certainly understood what death meant. We went on to discuss memories and how we would always hold her in our hearts and see her photos on our computer and in albums.

    Taking advantage of opportunities to discuss death earlier -- with a pet or even a worm in the driveway -- can make future conversations and events easier to deal with because your child will have an understanding of the concept. So next time I won't hide our dead goldfish. I will embrace the opportunity as a teaching moment with my children.

    What about you? How and when did you explain the concepts of death and grief to your kids?
    nursingbug responded:
    This is timely for me- I am 24 weeks pregnant, and my unborn daughter has a very severe birth defect called congenital diaphramatic hernia, it is very likely that she will not survive. I am trying to figure out how to explain death to my 4 year old daughter. My father died last year, and she seemed to understand a little, but I am waiting until I am further along to bring it up, because I don't think it will help to bring it up earlier. That, and we are still looking for other opinions of specialists that will give her a better chance.
    Haylen_WebMD_Staff replied to nursingbug's response:

    We've missed you over in the Diet Community...I'm so sorry to hear this! (((hugs))) to you and your family as you face such a difficult time.

    Elizabeth_WebMD_Staff replied to nursingbug's response:
    Oh Nursingbug,

    We are so sorry to hear this very sad news.

    I just re-read Dr. Altman's post and hope you can find some support in her words. Please keep us posted.

    Thinking of you and your family,
    baby1at35 responded:
    Well my husband died before my 2nd son was born. They have known about their Daddy from as early on as when they could talk.
    I have always been honest , answered questions and kept it simple for their age bracket.
    I know we are not the "norm" because it is part of our life from early on. I could not ignore it as people do ask about their daddy and they simply say he died.
    It has been a long journey for us but I always felt that being as honest to their level as I can was very important.
    fcl responded:
    When my Mil died, we explained to my then 4 yo daughters in a very matter-of-fact way that she had died and that she was no longer in pain. 2 days later we all went to the funeral which was, as we explained to the girls, to allow us to say good bye to her. One of them asked to see her in her coffin - which we allowed (and no, she wasn't traumatized).

    We weren't sure that they had taken it all in until a week or so later. L?onie went upstairs to go to the toilet. Grandma's door (she had a sort of living room beside her bedroom where she spent her days) was open. I saw L?onie go along the corridor andquietly close the door. I was close to tears but I knew that she had understood ...
    nursingbug replied to Elizabeth_WebMD_Staff's response:
    thank you
    I just haven't had much energy lately to post-
    I always said that if my weight issues were the hardest thing I had to face it would be a blest life- and now I am eating my words!
    Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP replied to nursingbug's response:
    Hi, nursingbug -
    Sorry to hear what you're going through.
    First and foremost, you must take care of yourself emotionally and physically. I would recommend that you seek expert care at a large university hospital or children's hospital because depending on the type of congenital diaphragmatic hernia there may be treatment options available. If the baby's condition does end up being incompatible with life, you will need to address the issue with your 4 year old. You may want to talk to a child therapist for advice more specific to your situation, but I usually recommend waiting until you know for sure before explaining death of a fetus or newborn to a young child. I use words such as, "the baby stopped growing" or "the baby was born with a problem and wasn't able to breathe." Tell the truth, but don't give more information than needed. Just simply and directly answer the question.

    Wishing you the best,
    Dr. Tanya
    nursingbug replied to Tanya Altmann, MD, FAAP's response:
    Yes, I live in STL and there are 2 large children's hospitals here, we are consulting both of them. One gave her a very poor outcome, told me we could just let her go, and not do any treatment. She only has 21% of normal lung volume.
    There is a Doctor in Florida who works primarily with CDH babies and has better outcomes, we are seeing him next week, to see if he can give us a better prognosis.
    I have had to discuss the illness itself with my dd because she keeps talking about when baby sister comes home, etc.
    And I feel it is important for her to start to understand that that might not happen.
    thank you for all of your support!
    Kidlutions replied to nursingbug's response:

    I am sorry to hear about what you and your family are going through. I will hold out hope for the best. In the event that you should need resources to help your daugther deal with the loss of her infant sibling, I highly suggest the following:

    We Were Gonna Have a Baby, But We Had an Angel Instead

    Something Happened: A Book for Children and Parents Who Have Experienced Pregnancy Loss

    and for parents:

    Grieving the Child I Never Knew

    Wendy @Kidlutions

    Helpful Tips

    Help kids learn to swallow pillsExpert
    I found this inexpensive but clever cup a few years ago, and it helped my kids learn to swallow pills without a fuss: ... More
    Was this Helpful?
    17 of 26 found this helpful

    Expert Blog

    Child Health 411 - Ari Brown, MD

    Educated parents are empowered parents! Get clear answers to your parenting questions from Dr. Ari Brown...Read More

    Related Drug Reviews

    • Drug Name User Reviews

    Report Problems With Your Medications to the FDA

    FDAYou are encouraged to report negative side effects of prescription drugs to the FDA. Visit the FDA MedWatch website or call 1-800-FDA-1088.