It was bedtime. We were cuddling in the dark, having completed our usual bedtime rituals. After a few minutes of silence, I heard my then 5-year-old son’s voice, “Mommy, what happens when you die?”
While that question caught me by surprise, these existential bedtime bombs are familiar to many parents.
Discussing death with children can be a challenging and delicate task, and (much as it did for me) the questions often come up unexpectedly. Bedtime is a common time for such questions and while the cynical side of me admits there may be some stalling involved, for many kids, being near a caregiver in the dark makes room for greater vulnerability.
While this topic is inherently complex, young children are naturally curious and ask a lot of questions, providing an important window of opportunity for those of us who care for children.
It is our responsibility to seize the moment and approach this sensitive topic with empathy and honesty, while providing children with the information they need to navigate the complicated feelings connected to this inevitable part of life.
Here are five strategies to help you answer children’s questions about death in a compassionate and age-appropriate manner:
As always, adding books to your toolbox is a helpful way to begin a conversation safely and with enough emotional distance that it allows a child to feel safe and ask questions when they are ready.