Nowhere is the conspiracy of silence more prevalent than in dealing with children about death. Death education, even more than sex education, is something that many parents don’t want to face with children. But death is a fact of life and normal, well-adjusted children must be acquainted with it.
How do you explain death to a child?
You can begin with nature. Remind them that when fall comes the leaves on the trees turn brown and fall to the ground, and the trees look dead. Then in the springtime they bud and burst forth with new leaves and new life. People are like trees in this way. They usually live a long time. Then something happens to their bodies and they die. It appears as though all of life is gone. But one day in God’s eternal springtime they shall be resurrected to new life just as trees, flowers, and the grass are each spring.
When an elderly person dies, it is easy to explain that the body is like a house that the spirit lives in and has grown old and worn out and the person cannot live in it any more. At death the spirit leaves it, just as we move out of a house when it is too old to live in any longer. Death is a wearing out of the body and a moving out of the spirit. A child of any age can accept that.
Always we can tell the child about heaven and pictures he can see in his mind. The descriptions the Bible gives are best, I think. All of the images of heaven that we find in the Bible point to our Christian destiny as being with God, in his hands, surrounded by his love, totally secure and joyful. These are ideas we want our children to have when they think of God’s gift of eternal life.
Children accept death much more readily than we think. Their attention span is short and they may soon be playing as though nothing has happened. Don’t be surprised or disappointed by this. It is natural. Death is a part of life. Children can and do accept it amazingly well.