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Five ways to talk to a child about death

“We need to have a national conversation about death and dying”

June 21, 2018

We have released some tips on talking with children about death, as part of a national campaign to support and encourage New Zealanders to get more comfortable talking about death and dying.

Rotorua Community Hospice Chief Executive Jonathon Hagger said there was growing concern internationally that many communities were finding it difficult to talk about death, and had very little knowledge or experience with the dying process. This often led to fear or made it more difficult when a loved one neared the end of their life.

“We’ve stopped talking about death, it might be many of us are uncomfortable or we don’t have the words – so many people don’t know much about it and they’re often afraid. These times can be particularly hard on children who are experiencing unfamiliar emotions and looking to adults they love to try to learn how to respond to them.”

Hospice is suggesting the following tips about how to talk about death with children:

  1. Be calm, honest and straight forward.  Use simple words like died, death, cancer.  Euphemisms can confuse children.
  2. Encourage children to talk about it and how they feel.  Check their level of understanding, repeat key information as needed.
  3. Invite questions.  Listen then answer based on their age and stage.  Bite sized pieces of information work best.
  4. Reassure them that they are safe and it’s not their fault. Help them identify people who are supporting them & will continue to.
  5. Involve them in family events.  Such as gatherings or memorial services.  Encourage their contribution, however small.

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