WYG Talks to Kids About Death: Kids and Euphemism Take Two

Kids and Teens / Kids and Teens : Eleanor Haley

Isn’t it interesting that kids can be such literal, black and white creatures and yet they produce some of the most imaginative, expansive and beautiful thoughts? It’s as if they live in an entirely different world where everything fits into black and white roles and realities and yet anything is possible. No wonder why it’s so much fun to talk to kids, because you never know where you’ll end up.

Still there are some conversations adults really don’t want to have with children because what we have to say is difficult to explain, embarrassing or has the potential to make the child sad, worried or confused. We’ve written on several occasions about one such conversation – death, duh – and from what I’ve observed, talking to children about death ranks among one of the to the top five dread-worthy adult/children conversations in this country.

Adults aren’t quite sure how to talk to kids about death; they worry they will scare the child or say something traumatizing. How you talk to a child about death depends mostly on the child and where they are developmentally. However thanks to their literal nature, we can offer you one pretty solid rule when it comes to talking to children about death – avoid the use of euphemism.

This rule is kind of a bummer because many of us use euphemism in the first place to replace a word or phrase that makes us uncomfortable and most people aren’t comfortable talking about death. I assume this is why there are approximately 200 euphemism related to concepts around death and dying. We briefly touched on the danger or using euphemism with children in a past post, but to illustrate this even further I decided to sit down with a handful of kids from different ages and with varying exposure to the concepts of death and dying. I know you would never use some of these phrases with your kids, but this is still a good illustration of how easily things can get confused if you don’t speak to children using clear and straightforward language they can understand.

Okay here goes, first I spoke with just the four year olds…

I’m afraid Carol has left us:

Tom has kicked the bucket:

Poor Johnny has followed the light:

Yarrrr, Carla has gone to Davy Jones’ Locker:

Carl bit the dust:

I’m afraid she has expired:

Well that was interesting. Let’s add some older kids in and see if they can help us make sense of things.

He’s gone to a better place:

She’s sleeping with the fishes:

Dear Gail is resting in peace:

Unfortunately Tom didn’t make it:

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3 Comments on "WYG Talks to Kids About Death: Kids and Euphemism Take Two"

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  1. Kristen  September 5, 2014 at 3:27 am Reply

    My mother took my to a local cemetery when I was around 2 or 3 to explain death to me. The Lion King came out around the same time, and that probably explained it best.

  2. Jackie  September 4, 2014 at 11:42 am Reply

    When our 3rd child was stillborn at full term, we were sure to be as open and honest with our older children as we could be. We explained that their baby brother had died and that he wasn’t coming back. We brought them to the hospital to meet their baby brother so they weren’t confused about where the baby went. We felt that it was very important for both of them (aged 9 and 5 at the time) to see him in the hospital as well as attend his memorial service. Communication has always remained open and questions are encouraged so they can try to understand death as much as they are able to at their age.

  3. Melvin Glazer  September 2, 2014 at 11:01 pm Reply

    When my Daddy died, I was two days shy of my 12th birthday. Mama talked to each of us- 3 kids- and she said: Daddy died last night.
    Problem was, we were not allowed to attend his funeral, nor did we ever find out why he died. ( we now know that his surgeon, a family friend, nicked an arterie and Daddy bled out!).
    On that day I became a grief therapist…

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