Understanding Death From a Child’s Perspective

by Debbie Twomey on August 1, 2013



In my last 3 bogs I discussed losing some good friends and how hard it is to understand or accept, even for me. I cannot imagine what it is like for a child to think of death and what it means to them.

When I was nine years old my best friends were murdered by their father. I have t tell you that while I understood the act and that they were gone; I was actually quite naïve about death. I knew my friends were gone but to where?  All I could think of was the horrible physical act that took them away from me. Even though I was being raised a Catholic, heaven was just a concept for me, not a reality.

In my mind heaven and hell were perceptions the nuns and priest taught, but like the idea of infinity, I could not grasp it. One day I had 4 friends ranging in age from 2-10 and the next day they were all dead. That was just so final and scary to me.

 I carried this fear and uncertainty with me through adulthood. I attended one wake when I was 18 and then refused to go again till I was 32 years old. All I could focus on was that the person I knew and loved was now in a box being placed into the ground. I could only feel panic at such a thought, from my own perspective.

So how do you explain death to a child? The number one rule is to be sure however you explain that it is age appropriate. In other words, you would not tell a two year old someone they know is dead and gone—that is beyond their comprehension.

If you are grieving it is difficult to know how to help kids deal with a death. Each instance will be different depending on who that child is, their age and experiences to date.  Here are a few recommendations:

  • -Keep in mind children under the age of 5 are very literal and the terms you use can instill fear—“they went to sleep forever” or “lost” such terms can instill fear in your child
  • -be concrete this is not the time to use words or images that are not direct or clear for them to grasp
  • -they might not understand “final” so be very patient if they keep asking where that person went
  • -be honest
  • -encourage questions and answer as simply as you can and be clear
  • -share your spirituality
  • -be very open and use comforting words meant to keep your child at ease and understanding there is no wrong question
  • -try not to complicate your answers it will just confuse your child. Less information is easier for them to comprehend


I believe my parents were afraid to share too much information with us when our friends were murdered. As a result, I was always so curious and very afraid. I was not allowed to know any details or attend the funeral so it was like they just disappeared.

When my daughter was 9 years old, my mother died. I could hardly accept it myself and I was stumped as to how to explain it to her. I compared the death of my mom to my daughter’s old bunny. She had a bunny from the age of one that just wore out. She was heartbroken and though she got a new one, she pined for the old one for a long time.

I told her that my Mom’s body wore out from being sick and she just could not stay here anymore. She wanted to but it hurt her body and she just wore out. My daughter attended the funeral and watched all of our reactions curiously. I was worried she would think we all would wear out now but she seemed to understand that because Grandma had been sick, her body wore out. 

She asked me where Grandma went and that was more difficult for me because my beliefs are not quite concrete on death. I tried to be honest and tell her that she would still be able to feel Grandma with her and that was the love and memory connection that she would never lose.

When a death is sudden it may be more complicated to explain but I try to let her know that accidents do happen which is why we have to be smart and protect ourselves from harmful situations. Because she was so young, I did not go into detail because it would be overload for her.

I encouraged my daughter to grieve and if she had questions I would do my best to answer them. It is not in a child’s best interest to avoid the topic in hopes of sparing them; their imagination is usually much more terrifying than reality.

The grief you feel is part of life and it is the love you felt for that person who just died. That is what lives on in our memory and our hearts. Death is one life lesson that a child will need to have a healthy perception.  As a parent, we need to be prepared to make the transition as comprehensible as possible.


"I have dedicated my life to the care and welfare of children. I feel privileged to share what I have learned with you. I am also committed to continuously learning.iStock_000004213744XSmall  I will keep informed of the latest information in parenting children from newborns to teens and pass it on to all of you.”   I will also use that same passion to help you create a dynasty generate increases in your business with straightforward and specialized media managing skills that guarantee your connection and scope will grow. Keep up to date reading our posts and discover valuable insights that can make parenting and succeeding in the business of the blogger– the most exciting adventure. (Debbie Twomey)
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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Robin Smith August 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Death is hard no matter what the age.  I do think people who have a strong belief in God and eternal life have an easier time explaining to a child and living through the grief.  I'm not sure how those who do not have a faith go on.   


Debbie Twomey August 1, 2013 at 5:25 pm

I can tell you it is very difficult Robin because then it just becomes th eunknown.


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