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How to Explain the Death of a Grandparent to Young Ones

  • Mindy Jones Crosswalk Contributing Writer
  • 2021 20 Dec
How to Explain the Death of a Grandparent to Young Ones

Losing a parent is, unfortunately, something we all have to go through, but sometimes it comes earlier than expected. It can be challenging to cope and grieve, especially when you have kids who may not understand what is happening. Sometimes our kids are very young when their grandparents and even great grandparents pass, and it can be tough to know how to handle this kind of situation. Do you tell them everything and all the details? Do you only tell them bits and pieces? How do I decide what to leave out? These may be some of the questions you ask yourself in this situation!

A lot of this depends on their age and what they can comprehend - for example, a 10-year-old would understand more than a 3-year-old. But, these tips are great to keep in mind in general when something like this happens in your life.

Here are some helpful ways you can gently explain to your child the death of a grandparent or great-grandparent:

1. Don’t hide the truth

First and foremost, you need to tell your young kids the truth about what happened. They will notice from about 2-3 and up if a grandparent isn’t around anymore.

Start by telling them the truth; someone has died. The word “died” sounds so harsh, and it’s tough to get out, but sometimes just saying “passed away” or “isn’t here anymore” doesn’t make it clear. It can even cause more confusion.

2. Tell what happened in simple words

For young kids, straightforward words are best because they clearly communicate what has happened. Older kids and adults can read the situation and in between the lines, knowing something has happened, but young kids have not developed that skill yet.

Don’t get me wrong; they can sense that something is wrong, but it can be confusing to see why everyone is so upset. Here is an example of what you could say in a very calm way: “I have some sad news to tell you. [Name] has died and won’t be here anymore.” Kids are so literal, so we need to be careful with sharing exactly what happened - for example, saying someone got sick and passed away could lead to kids becoming worried that when they get sick, they may die too.

When my grandmother passed away, my daughter was four and knew something had happened. I explained to her that GG was very old, and her body grew tired and weak, and it was better for her to be in Heaven with Jesus. I told her we could be sad that she isn’t here but thankful that she is in heaven.

This leads to the next point…

3. It’s okay to be sad

Let them know it is okay to be sad! Help them put feelings into words. They may not fully understand what death means, so explaining to them that we won’t see that person anymore and it’s okay to be sad about that.

Some kids may cry, some may not react at all - but the most important thing is to embrace their feelings and comfort them. Let them know that you are sad too and that you both loved Grandma/Grandpa very much. If that person was a believer, you could explain to your kids that they are in heaven with Jesus, and we can be thankful for that.

4. Let them ask questions

After sharing the news with them in simple words and letting them know it’s okay to be sad, let them ask any questions they may have. You can even be the one to ask, “Do you have any questions?” - that way, you can try and help them process before the following events take place.

Remember, you don’t have to be perfect or have all the right answers. Sometimes, saying “I don’t know” is perfectly okay, but reminding them that Mommy and Daddy may not have all the answers, but we can trust in God’s promises and plans for our lives. That He ALWAYS has the answers, and we can lean on Him.

5. Explain what happens next

This is a critical step because it will be a confusing time for them - traveling to different places, dressing up, seeing people cry and grieve, etc. So it is vital to explain to them precisely what will happen next. Kids deal with change differently, but it can be very tough for them. They like knowing what will happen, such as the first day of school, going to a Dr. appt, the dentist, and other things like that. Laying out expectations allows them to feel a part of what is happening and gives them that tiny boost of confidence knowing what they have to do.

You could even give them a small job to do. For example, have them make cards for family members, write a letter of love about the deceased family member (what all they loved about them, etc.), or keep a packet of tissues in their pocket. Kids love helping in any way they can and feel important having a “big kid” job to focus on during such a tough time.

6. Be prepared to answer more questions

Once the funeral and other services have ended, the grief and questions will most likely not stop there. As I mentioned, when my grandmother passed away, for weeks and even a few months after, I would hear her say certain things to herself or ask questions that took me aback a little. They weren’t bad questions, but I didn’t think to prepare myself for the aftermath and whirlwind of traveling and dealing with her death.

Some of these statements and phrases she asked were:

• Why did she die?

• I’m happy she died (meaning because she was in heaven)

• Sometimes I talk to GG

• I miss her so much

• (Telling other people and strangers) My GG died

Most of these, I would respond with something like, “Yes, I miss her too, and we still love her very much. She loved us very much too, and she is happy and no longer in pain in heaven.”

I share these with you to help prepare you for what may happen - death is such a huge thing, and it may be a topic of conversation for a while. Your young kids are still processing in their minds what happened, and staying consistent, open, and honest will help them deal with it appropriately!

7. Pray with them

Before even talking to your kids, saying a prayer to ask God to help you with what to say is so important. He is the ultimate comforter, and we want our kids to know that as well.

Once you have shared the news, offer to say a prayer with your young kids. Pray that God will help comfort you both, and encourage your kids in the fact that they can trust in Him in times when they feel sad or confused. It’s tough to go through the loss of a parent or grandparent, and I am so sorry for those who have experienced this! I hope these different tips and phrases will help you explain the death of a loved one to your younger kids without being overwhelmed.

Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Jordan Whitt

Mindy JonesMindy Jones is a Christ-follower, loving wife, and stay-at-home mom. She is a graduate of Campbellsville University with a Major in Business Administration and a love for writing. Her mission is to guide Christian moms in being more intentional in their faith, family, and homes with practical tips and authenticity! She hopes to inspire moms to be fervent in raising children who love the Lord, offering tons of activities and resources to do so on her website, Mindy Jones Blog.