Supporting a child when something or someone dies

by Niccilouise

Image‘Where has fluffy gone?” Where has Bobby gone?’ Somehow the answers received in our generation seem hollow. ‘He has gone to heaven’ means so many different things now that children are surrounded by computer games, cartoons, a multicultural society and science [1}. Children are looking for facts to help them understand and as they grow they may return to asking the same questions, or more sophisticated ones to gain greater understanding of death. They don’t understand at first that death is permanent and will happen to everyone [2].

It is important to include the child, even if the whole family is grieving, as it does no good to protect them by pretending nothing is wrong. Children sense anguish and feeling that ‘death’ is a taboo subject will mean they won’t put their fears into words and will act out their grief in angry or hopeful ways [2].

Many parents may find it hard to broach the subject, but watching your child play may help you to discover how they are coping. Stories are also good and should lead to an open an honest conversation. It can also help with repetitive questions where our reply can be ‘I don’t know where Bobby has gone, but remember the story of the water bugs down in the pond?’

Water Bugs and Dragon flies [1}

Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a little colony of happy water bugs. For many months they scurried over the soft mud at the bottom of the pond. But, every once in a while they noticed that one of their water bug friends lost interest in the others and clung to pond lily stem slowly crawling up and out of sight.

‘Look!’ said one of the water bugs to another.

‘One of our colony is climbing the lily stalk; where do you suppose she is going?’

Up and up it went and disappeared from sight and for an age they waited to ask her, but she never returned.

‘That’s funny! Wasn’t she happy here? Where did she go?’ the water bugs asked each other. But no one had any answers and they became very puzzled.

Finally the leader of the water bugs gathered all his friends and family and said ‘I have an idea to help all this puzzlement! The next one to climb up the lily stalk must promise to return and tell us where he or she went and why.’

‘We promise’ said all the other water bugs solemnly.

One spring day, not long after, this same leader found himself climbing the lily stalk. Up and up he went and before he even knew what was happening he had broken through the surface of the water and fallen onto a green lily pad on the surface.

When he awoke from his odd dream he realized a startling change had come over his body. He had four silver wings and a long tail. He moved his wings in the sunlight and soared into the sky a dragonfly. He felt exhilarated swooping and dipping in great curves.

When he rested back on a lily pad he glanced down and saw his old friends below. He was right above them! They were scurrying about just as before. The dragonfly remembered his promise to return and without thinking darted down to them. He hit the surface of the water and bounced away. He tried again and again, but now that he was a dragonfly he couldn’t return.

‘I can’t return, but even if I did would they recognise me in my new body? I will have to wait until they become dragonflies too’ he thought and flew off happily into his new world of sun and air {1}.


Books of interest

~When dinosaurs die: A guide to understanding death By L. Brown and M. Brown Boston: Little Brown 1996

~ Children grieve too: helping children cope with grief by Joy and Dr M Johnson (1998)

Charities that have provide support and resources for you

~CRUSE; Surrey 0181 940 4818 (support, training and literature about bereavement)

~Alder Centre, Royal London Children’s NHS trust 0151 228 9759 ( support for anyone affected by the loss of a child)

~SANDS (Still birth and neonatal death society) 0171 436 5881 (all help needed for bereaved parents)


Remember honesty is always the best policy! If you need help explaining things to a child with communication difficulties don’t forget to look at the articles under ‘resources’ for help with Makaton and BSL. There are more coming up so click ‘follow’ to ensure you don’t miss anything!


1) Stickney, D (2004) Water bugs and dragon flies: explaining death to young children, Cleveland: Pilgrim press
2) Schwiebert, P (2008) We were gonna have a baby but we had an angel instead, Grief watch: Portland



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