How to prepare a child for someone dying

Preparing tamariki / children or mātātahi / young people for the expected death of a loved one while trying to cope with your own emotions can be one of the toughest things you’ll ever have to do.

Here’s how to prepare a child for someone dying.

Although situations and circumstances vary from whānau to whānau, the following tips might help.

  • Prepare yourself as much as possible. Practice what you will say with another adult and think about the questions your tamariki / children may have.
  • Being open and honest in an age-appropriate way is a good approach to take. Try to avoid being vague or unsure as this may suggest you’re hiding some even worse news. It’s ok to say you don’t know the answers. If it’s something medical, tell your tamariki / children that you’ll find out and let them know.
  • Your tamariki / children may be on ‘high alert’ and might overhear things they don’t fully understand. They may then fill in the gaps with their own imagination so it’s best to talk to them as soon as possible.
  • It might be helpful to have another trusted adult with you or ask that they do the talking while you’re there.
  • Choose the right time. Talking at the start of a weekend allows tamariki / children plenty of time afterwards to be alone or do their usual activities and routines.
  • Be open to any responses. Tamariki / children may not even seem that upset at the time – an emotional response could come hours or even days later. They may have many questions or none at all.
  • You may have tamariki / children of different ages. If so, speak to them all together if possible. This will avoid someone feeling ‘left out’ or thinking that they’re not receiving the same information as another sibling. Assure your tamariki / children that they can speak to you one-to-one at any time, but you wanted to talk to them as a whānau first.
  • Let your tamariki / children know who else you may have spoken to and why. This is especially important for teens – discuss with them who else in their lives should know, like teachers, friends, other whānau members or caregivers.