How to explain death to kids who ask about the Queen

With the passing of our monarch, our children will undoubtedly hear about her death and will have many questions. Here’s how to approach the topic.

Although expected, many of us will find it difficult to process the passing of the Queen. Death is a difficult concept for adults to face and an even more difficult topic to discuss with children. With the passing of our monarch, our children will undoubtedly hear about her death and will have many questions.

The best way to talk to kids about death is to use honest, concrete and unambiguous terms. Be present, listen and by ask open-ended questions to assess what your children already know or believe. It’s OK to use common expressions like “passed away,” but don’t use factually incorrect terms like “has gone to sleep.” Though your intention may be to avoid upsetting your child, using abstract terms is likely to cause more confusion.

Answer questions in a ‘just enough’ way.  Your child will probably have questions about what they’ve just heard, though sometimes children will not ask any questions right away or may even seem disinterested. These are all normal reactions and part of the way different children process challenging topics; the child may come back days or even weeks later with questions. Provide your child with straightforward and truthful answers to their questions.

Here are some common questions your child might have about death—the Queen’s or otherwise—and how to answer them.

What is death?

All life is connected and serves a special purpose. When a living thing reaches the end of its life, it dies. When living things die, we call this death.

What does death mean?

Death means that a living thing is no longer alive. A tree full of leaves and blossoms is alive. An old tree that has fallen over in the forest is no longer alive. It is dead.

Do people die too?

People are living things. Our lives are also important, meaningful and connected. At the end of our lives, we all die too—just like the old tree in the forest.

What happens when someone dies?

When someone dies, that person’s body stops working. People can die from old age, illness or even sometimes an accident. Those who knew and loved the person who died will often gather to say goodbye. Usually, this is done at a ceremony, called a funeral. Funerals often take place in spiritual places like churches, synagogues, mosques and temples.

Where does the soul go after a person dies?

Some people believe that the soul journeys to the afterlife to join the souls of other people who have died. Many cultures think of the afterlife as a joyful and loving place where the soul lives forever. In some religions, this place is called heaven. Others believe that we are reborn or return to the earth in a different form.

Will I ever see the person who died again?

Death means that a person’s body is no longer alive, so you won’t see the person you love again. But that person can still live on in our memories, thoughts and even dreams. In this way, our loved ones are always a part of us.

Why do I feel sad?

When someone dies, it’s normal to be very sad and miss that person. It can be hard to say goodbye to someone you love.

What can I do to feel better?

While you may always miss the person who died, it can be helpful to do or make something special to celebrate the person. Remembering and honouring somebody’s life can help us to move on after that person dies.

Death is hard to understand and talk about. Talking to your children about some of the ways people die is a challenging conversation, but may be necessary for them to understand death and what they are feeling about it. Allow time and permission for grief. Processing grief in the right way will allow your child to become resilient and face future loss with less distress.

Dr. Jillian Roberts is a child psychologist and professor at the University of Victoria. She is the author of What Happens When a Loved One Dies: Our First Talk about Death and On the News: Our First Talk About Tragedy.

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