How to Handle Your Child’s Fear of Death

How to Handle Your Child’s Fear of Death

Learn how to help your child deal with a fear of death with these tips from an expert.


By Maria Mora

Recently, my kindergartner began drawing pictures that depicted a little stick figure version of himself dying. Around the same time, he started asking me frequently what would happen if I died, or if he died. I brought it up with his pediatrician, and she said that it’s common for kids his age to struggle with the concepts of death and dying.

When I reached out to Kristine A. Kevorkian, PhD, MSW, a social worker and expert in death and dying, she shared these tips that helped me handle my son’s fears.

Look to nature. Kevorkian suggestions talking about death as a natural part of life. “Use nature to help your child understand the cycle of life – that we are born, we live and we die, just like all the plants and animals around us,” she says. This approach allows you to also talk about birth, and about fascinating aspects of the life cycle.

Address separation anxiety. Young kids don’t have a firm grip on what death means. “A child might see death simply as that person never coming back,” says Kevorkian. Because of this, kids who fear death may have separation anxiety when parents leave for work or go out of town. Be aware of your child’s fears and make sure your child understands that you’ll be reunited soon when you’re away.

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Make a safe space for discussion. When you want to discuss death with your child, don’t do it casually in the car or when you’re busy and distracted. Try to create a safe space outside or in your home where your child feels secure and you have time and attention. “Make it a ritual so that the two of you know that this is the place to have your ‘life and death’ talks,” says Kevorkian.

Practice answering questions. Every family has a different approach to discussing death. Let your cultural and religious upbringing guide you. Before your child comes to you with questions, practice answering them in depth. “If you respond to these questions with simple one-word answers,” says Kevorkian, “you’re more than likely not going to be helping your child learn to cope.”

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Allow children to witness grief. Kevorkian encourages families to let children witness and participate in grief if a family member or family pet dies. She does not recommend quickly replacing family pets, since that can confuse children. While grief and pain can be difficult, they’re part of an important learning process. “Imagine what life would be like if we lived in neutral all the time,” she says. “Life, as in nature, ebbs and flows. We need to teach our children that now so that as they grow, they will know how to cope with those daily ebbs and flows.”

Reach out for more help if you need it. “Thanatophobia, the fear of death, is actually not all that uncommon, especially among children,” says Kevorkian. “If these tools don’t help, and your child continues to worry about death, please seek professional counseling sooner rather than later. I’d recommend a grief counselor who is certified or a fellow in thanatology through the Association for Death Education and Counseling.”

How have you talked to your child about death?


Maria Mora is a single mom, editor, and hockey fanatic. She lives with her two sons in Florida.

Image ©iStock.com/pkripper503


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