How to talk about death to your child and manage their fears?

Comment parler de la mort à son enfant et gérer leurs peurs ?

The questions around death are among the most dreaded by parents and it is quite legitimate. In this article, we are going to try to dissect this fear, and above all, to offer you concrete ways of approaching it with your children, depending on the age and the context.

At what age are you afraid of death?

From 3-4 years old, it is not uncommon for children to begin to wonder about death. It's a word and a concept they hear, they want to know more. That doesn't mean they're afraid of it, and that's the whole point!

They wonder why they no longer see such and such a person, why the cat is no longer at home, why the bird in the garden no longer moves. We are in a period of questions, which we must answer as parents, with words adapted to their ages. And besides, all the difficulty at that time will be not to transfer our adult emotions onto our little ones. A good way to do this is to discuss with them, to make them talk.

The famous questions “And you, what do you think?” or “How do you feel about not seeing the cat anymore?” allow us to know where the child is in relation to the concept of death, what he already knows about it, what he feels.

Pipouette is obviously the tool you need in this case! He can act as an intermediary between you and your child and create connection in delicate situations. Get him to talk to ask your child questions, and vice versa, to talk to you about your feelings : “ Pipouette (with the Sadness face for example) is like Mom, you see, he's sad that Grandpa is no longer there. It pains him very much to think that he will never see him again.” Verbalizing your emotions in a mirror on a support makes it easier to welcome this emotion in a painful moment.

The real fear of death comes a little later, around 5-7 years old, when they understand its final aspect . There, anxieties can appear, especially when they realize that it could happen to one of their parents, brothers, sisters... They are normal and universal. On the other hand, if you feel that they are becoming insurmountable or too intrusive, do not hesitate to call on a professional who can accompany your child during this period by helping him to exteriorize and manage these emotions.

Why and how to talk about death to a child?

As long as the child does not perceive the irreversible aspect of death, this may be a good time to begin to approach the finitude of things, without rushing it, with appropriate words and situations . For example, speaking of the leaf cycle of trees, of nature. Thus, he will gradually perceive the concept, without fearing it because the emotional charge will be much less.

When a death occurs (close person, pet, etc.), regardless of the age of the child, it is always best to name things as they are, simply, without using euphemisms or allegories. The traditional “He's gone”, “He's fallen asleep”, “She's in heaven”, can increase the child's incomprehension and worry: “If he's gone, it's because he will come back?”, “But then, if he is sleeping, why can't I see him again? Me too, if I fall asleep, they won't be able to see me again?”, “She's in heaven, does that mean I'm going to see her when I take the plane?”

The word "death" is not a bad word ; it is especially anxiety-provoking for us adults, who know what it involves and who directly associate deep negative emotions with it. For a child, it is often much more neutral. Death is inevitable, and our children will necessarily be confronted with it one day or another… it will be of great help to him in his life to be able to apprehend it with more understanding.

As for the description of the circumstances of a death, again everything depends on the age of the child and the situation. When it comes to illness, it is important to place the context of a “serious illness”, so as not to give rise to disproportionate concern in the child during his next angina …

Similarly, it happens that death is perceived as a relief for the entourage, when the person – or the animal – has suffered a lot; that's quite something you can say to a child. Regardless of their beliefs and without necessarily talking about the “After”, you can simply explain to your child that the person is now liberated and “better”. It's always reassuring for a little one to perceive this in the adults around him.

All these questions, all these problems, all these words are difficult to grasp as parents. At Pipouette, we want to support you in good times, but also in difficult or more delicate times. This is also how we designed our favorite rabbit; as a communication and expression tool above all !

So if we can be an intermediary and a vector to help you in these complicated discussions, we would be the most affected. Use and abuse Pipouette's faces to talk about yourself, your emotions, those of your child, to encourage discussion, to allay fears... and to end with a big comforting hug!

For further :

From 2 years old (when a death occurs): If we spoke of death , by Catherine Dolto

From 3 years old: Goodbye Badger , by Susan Varley
Toddlers' questions about death, Bayard Jeunesse

From 6 years old: Life, death , My little questions collection
Lili is afraid of death , by Serge Bloch and Dominique de Saint Mars

From 6-7 years old: Coco , Disney cartoon