Where is grandma? Why won’t she play with me now?

It can be difficult to approach the topics of death and loss with your child. We give you some suggestions on how to handle this heartbreaking subject when it occurs – whether to pets, relatives or friends.


As parents, it is only natural that you would want to shield your little ones from the harsh and unpleasant realities of life and preserve their childhood innocence as long as you can. However, death is a part of life, and it is only a matter of time before your child faces it. 

Death from a child’s perspective

For an under 6-year-old
Until children are about 5 or 6 years old, their view of the world is very literal and they may not be able to comprehend what death means. You can explain to your child in simple terms that death just means a person’s body has stopped working and that the person cannot come back. Children before 5 or 6 years old often have difficulties understanding that all people and living things eventually die and may continue to ask when the person is returning. As frustrating as this is, continue to assure and reiterate to your child that the person has died and cannot come back. At this age, it is also pointless to explain difficult concepts to children such as afterlife.

From 6 to 10 years old
Children start to grasp the finality of death but it is only when children mature into teens that they start to understand death happens to everyone. Your teen may then start to have related questions about mortality and vulnerability.

Explain death and loss honestly
It is important to create an atmosphere of comfort and openness when sharing messages of death and loss with your child. Encourage your child to be open about their feelings and to ask questions if they need to. Be honest and let them know that you do not have all the answers but reassure your child that you will be there to help them cope with the journey. You can choose to share any religious beliefs about death with your child. Remember that under 6, the child may not understand these beliefs, but will parrot them back, probably in a jumble.

Avoid using euphemisms, such as telling your children that the person has “gone away” or “went to sleep”. Children think very literally so they will start associating “going away” or sleeping to death — you do not want to have a hysterical child who refuses to sleep any more, or one who is inconsolable when a beloved relative or friend goes away on holiday.

Celebrate the deceased’s life
A good way to remember and celebrate the life of a person who has passed on is to keep memories of the person. Start a scrapbook, photo album or memory box and store photos and items of the person inside. You can get your child to write notes about the person – such as what he loved about the person or what the person was good at or a fun event they shared together.