How Children Handle Death

Death usually strikes at the most unexpected of times. And who it strikes and where it strikes are equally puzzling and unpredictable.

Paul Brager of More Precious Than Rubies is very young when his mother dies in a car accident. She leaves behind her husband, her son, Paul, and Paul’s younger brother, Adrian. All are understandably devastated when she dies.

Although Paul’s situation is set in a fictitious novel, it is not uncommon for such a tragedy to occur in real life. When children lose a close family member to death, the grief intensifies since children are still developing their coping skills. They are not always mature enough to handle death the way adults can. True, adults suffer through a loss, too; they just have more stable emotions than children.
Talking about death is never a pleasant subject; however, it can be dealt with in a non-threatening, sensitive way. Parents should start talking about death when their children are still at a young age. This is a good preparation since we all face the subject numerous times in our lives. Obviously, the topic should be approached in a way that does not terrify the child or give him/her nightmares.

Simply talking about the natural progression of a life cycle (e.g., a plant’s beginning of life in spring and death in fall, and even its renewal of life the next year) can ease a child into developing a better understanding of death.

Since such topics tie in with lessons taught at school, teachers can help children learn about the transition from life to death. Parents do not have to take on the subject by themselves.
If adults overlook the general fear of death that most people have and start discussing the topic with children as they grow up, perhaps this will make the child stronger when confronting unfortunate circumstances in life.


About randycoates

Randy Coates graduated from the University of Waterloo with a bachelor of arts degree and went on to acquire his teacher’s certificate at the University of Western Ontario. He is currently an elementary teacher in the Toronto District Board of Education.
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2 Responses to How Children Handle Death

  1. Good observations. We (my two sons and I) live the Brager’s life. The question arises, would the boys have handled their mom’s death better if she (and I) had talked about death more often than we had done before she was killed in a traffic accident in October 2009, at age 41. The boys were 9 and 12 at the time. I’m just not sure.
    We had talked about ‘it’. Their grandpa had died when they were younger. We had spread out some ideas about the afterlife, Jenn believing in some reincarnation, me just admitting I had no idea (and no real belief). It was not on the kids’ radar, so fear, unfamiliarity or worries about death didn’t really enter their young lives. Until their mom suddenly passed away.
    I opened all imaginable doors of grief. Let my tears run freely, screamed, laughed, raged, and just remained quiet. Showed the boys my sadness, admitted to them that I had sometimes no idea how to act, how to answer the unanswerable questions. It’s like becoming a parent. You read all the books, get all the advice, but no one can really prepare you for the those sleepless nights and dirty diapers. You succeed because everybody does, you have no choice, and you are committed to parenting.
    I was committed to parenting once again after my spouse died. Committed to being there for the boys, and for them to be whomever they want to be. In sickness and in health, in good and in bad times. We talked about death so much, since we experienced it. From day 1 I promised them that things would be better. Sometimes I didn’t believe that, but I kept at it. Things are different, not good, but better. By being there for them.
    (Our experiences during the first year after Jenn’s death are written down in my diary, published on

    • randycoates says:

      Thank you so much for your heartfelt message and your diary entry which I read.

      I lost my partner eight years ago. I can certainly relate to you when I remember the grieving process; however, I did not have any children and so you have gone through more than I went through. From what you say, you are doing wonderful things for your children. I believe they need to see you express emotion as much as they do, themselves. They are lucky to have you as a parent.

      The diary entry about removing your ring is very touching and reminds me of a recent incident I had, concerning a friend. She told me that when her husband proposed to her, she did not tell any of her family. Instead, she kept swinging her hand around, to show everyone her engagement ring, without telling them.

      Sadly, the story seems to be the opposite of your story about removing the ring. My friend’s family never noticed the new ring until my friend told them. In that incident, everyone was extremely happy.

      Thanks for sharing this incredibly moving diary entry.

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