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Quick Facts

Death and Dying in Children

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

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How does the death of a child affect a family?

Losing a child is very painful and hard for a family.

  • Grieving parents may have a hard time meeting the needs of surviving children

  • Sometimes, parents quickly have another child to “replace” the child who has died—in these situations, parents may be overprotective of the new child or have a hard time bonding

  • Counseling may be helpful

  • There may be a support group in your community for parents who have lost a child

How should I explain the death of a family member or loved one to children?

  • Give children simple explanations at a level they can understand

  • Older children may be able to understand more—let them know it's normal to be curious and ask questions

  • Don’t compare death to going to sleep and never waking up because children may become scared of bedtime

If your child becomes very sad or withdrawn, stops taking part in activities, or acts out, have the child see a counselor for help.

Should children visit sick or dying people in the hospital?

Ask your child’s doctor if it's all right to visit.

Prepare children for the visit:

  • Explain that the person may look different but is the same person

  • Prepare the child for physical changes, like weight gain or hair loss

  • Prepare children for medical equipment they may see in use

Should children attend the funeral of a loved one?

This is a personal decision. If children attend a funeral, have someone with them who can focus on their needs and let them leave if they want.

Tell children it's all right to ask questions about death and dying.

Give children a way to help. They can:

  • Write or draw a card

  • Pick flowers

  • Wrap a present

  • Collect food, money, or toys

Where can I find more information?