Mighty Blog

How to talk to kids about death

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold in Minnesota, across the country and around the world, it’s hard to escape news of deaths related to the virus. And, unfortunately, these deaths have been among older adults—like grandparents.

The death of a loved one is heartbreaking. Kids, just like adults, may approach the grieving process in many different ways. However, if not addressed, grief can have life-long consequences for kids. Rachel Calvert, child life and music therapy manager at Children’s Minnesota, shares more about how to help kids through the grieving process.

How to help kids talk about grief

It can be difficult, and sometimes uncomfortable, to have conversations about death. Kids may ask questions such as ‘Am I going to die?’, ’Who will take care of me?’ and ’Why did this happen?’ Parents may not always feel prepared to answer these questions, but being honest and factual, using words and language that kids can understand is very important. Keeping open lines of communication allows children to express their grief in the ways they need to and this can look different at different ages.

What happens if kids don’t work through grief?

Grief has lifelong impacts and isn’t something that is ever complete, so it’s important that children are supported as they process previous losses over time. Emotional and social implications of how kids and teens cope with a death can be seen in their future relationships with friends and family, and often in the development of self-esteem, self-confidence and/or self-worth.

Children’s Minnesota offers several bereavement programs to our patient families, including a group specifically for youth. Our Living with Grief youth group can help children and teens understand that they are not alone, and there are other kids their age who are also grieving.

How does Children’s Minnesota help kids with grief?

In the hospitals at Children’s Minnesota, our child life professionals work with kids and adolescents to help them understand and name their emotions while they are grieving. Child life staff help to promote healthy methods of emotional expression and encourage patients to identify their feelings through many methods: play, dialogue, crafts, art, or other forms of self-expression. Our music therapists similarly partner with patients to process events, create intimate keepsakes like a heartbeat recordings, and promote family attachment in their interventions.

Our spiritual care and social work teams engage with families to meet their needs around a loss in the ways that are most meaningful to each individual family. Our bereavement coordinator continues support for families after they leave the physical walls of Children’s.

How have events during 2020 affected kids?

Kids have experienced and seen a lot in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic and the death of George Floyd may have led kids to worry about losing family members or have anxiety about their own well-being. Social distancing restrictions have interrupted funerals, memorial services and other grieving rituals. Support systems for families look different than they had previously as individuals are impacted by compounded losses, not always even due to death. This incredible sense of loss all around challenges the coping strategies that previously worked for kids, teens and adults.

Kaitlyn Kamleiter