How Do You Tell a Young Child that a Loved One has Died?

Last week, we lost our most wonderful Nan – the boys’ Great Nan (my husband’s Nan) – who I’ve been so privileged to have had in my life for the last 13 years. She was a fantastic ‘keep calm and carry on’ woman and even though she had a bloody good innings, living until 100 years old, it’s always sad saying goodbye knowing you won’t see someone again.

But how do you relay this loss to a toddler? They don’t know what death is. Do we even know what death is, where we go, or whether we have a soul that goes somewhere. Does everything just end? 

I’m obviously not going to attempt to answer these questions as I’m certainly no philosopher; but I do want to ask you readers, whether you’ve ever had to convey the death of a loved one to your young children?

I have mentioned it to Arthur, but truth be told, he’s still too young to really even know that she’s gone and what that means. I wasn’t even going to tell him, but then we saw an ambulance and he said “is that going to the hospital where Nana is? Is Nana better now?”

All these worries sailed into my head; in a fleeting second I had to decide whether I should I take a chip out of his innocence and tell her that she’s died? Say she’s somewhere where she isn’t poorly anymore? Should I give an answer which I’m not sure I believe? Should I ignore his question? Should I lie? 

It sounds a little crass, but all Arthur understands by the words ‘death’ or ‘died’ are the unfortunate mice which our cat, Bellatrix, brings in. I didn’t want to use that D word and him think of the mice!!!!

So what did I do?

I sort of lied.

I said, “she is better now darling, but we won’t see her anymore. She’s gone to be a star in the sky and will twinkle up there watching over us”.

Eeeeeeek was this going to bring on more questions? Was I terrible for lying as we all know what stars really are? But is it a nice lie; a lie that doesn’t bring an awareness of something which he’s too young to have to understand? A lie that makes me feel better?

Thankfully all Arthur said was “up there, with the moon?”.  I said “yes darling, with the moon”… oh no, what would he ask next…

“Okay, please can I watch Fireman Sam for a little bit when we get home?”

Phew… conversation over. 

So did I do the right thing? Is there a right way to deal with this? How would you have gone about it, or have you ever had to do this before?


  1. February 11, 2016 / 9:19 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss…
    It is so hard to speak to little ones but I think you handled it well…I would have said the same too. When my fella's mum died we said the same thing to my girls. Sometimes it's just best to bend the truth a little.
    Sending big hugs x

  2. February 14, 2016 / 10:01 pm

    I'm so sorry to hear this! My mum and dad told me when I was young that my Grandma was the brightest star in the sky. and also because she died just before I was born that she had to leave to make room for me. It always made me feel like I must've been so special as I had water on the brain while in the womb and my mum was booked in for an abortion as my life would have been very different x woah that got deep quickly!

  3. February 14, 2016 / 10:02 pm

    I think you handled it the best way possible. There's no need to break their hearts for them to understand. He'll learn about the awful things in the world one day, but better to keep his innocence that bit longer. Plus the star story is truthful (for those that believe our loved ones look down on us) and probably how many people would explain it to a child that age. Much love to your family at this time. xx

  4. February 15, 2016 / 8:58 am

    I'm very sorry for your loss. It sounds like you were privileged to have a wonderful woman in your life. My husbands father passed away when my daughter was little. It was hard to make her understand as her Granddad lived overseas so she hadn't seen him very often in person. Overtime we have told her that her Granddad lives in heaven now but he can watch down over us all. I think your star approach makes sense I wouldn't say it was a lie it is symbolic really.

  5. February 15, 2016 / 8:58 am

    I'm really sorry for your loss, It is incredibly hard to explain to toddlers, if i was in your situation I would have been completely clueless at what to say. I think you handled it beautifully. Sending lots of love, x

  6. February 15, 2016 / 8:58 am

    Im so sorry for your loss. Im dreading the day ill have to be doing this! 🙁

  7. February 15, 2016 / 8:58 am

    I'm so sorry for your loss. We had a very similar thing. A few days after my 2nd baby was born last November, my mother in law passed away. We said a very similar thing to my 3 year old as you. So I definitely think it's on to say that. I don't think she understands though properly and i'm sure we will have another chat about it soon x

  8. February 25, 2016 / 3:45 pm

    I'm sorry to hear of ur loss my nan is in her 80s and do worry when the time comes how to tell Blake if she goes when he is little.

  9. February 25, 2016 / 3:45 pm

    so sorry for your loss. It is hard but children are so innocent they just need it to be kept simple – sounds like you said the right thing to me x

  10. February 25, 2016 / 3:45 pm

    I'm so sorry for your loss, sending gentle sympathy hugs and love. I think everyone talks to children about death in different ways – as a parent I am very blunt about death, I try to be very honest and open with the kids. I don't do it to frighten them, rather encourage them to believe that death isn't something to fear. x

  11. February 25, 2016 / 3:46 pm

    Thank you everyone for your lovely kind comments xx

  12. February 25, 2016 / 8:47 pm

    I am so sorry for your loss though what an amazing age to reach! I think you did brilliantly in telling Arthur.

  13. February 25, 2016 / 9:10 pm

    It's tough isn't it and I think how you deal with it depends on their age and them themselves. And you can only do what you think is right, at the time you thought it right – so of course you did right 🙂

  14. February 26, 2016 / 2:08 pm

    I had to have this conversation with Emma when our Georgie passed away. She was only 4 back then and accepted my explanations about heaven without much questioning. Grief specialists advise speaking about such events with small children and never use phrases like "they went to sleep" as they can put children off their bedtime routine.I think I have handled it really well.xx

  15. February 26, 2016 / 2:09 pm

    Grief is such a hard one to talk about. My Dad died when I was 11, everyone around me kinda tip toed around me but all I needed was normality, it was such a hard time. I think if they are told what's happening (in a John Cravens newsround) kinda way, it can make things a lot easier. Kids are so amazing at getting through things like this, they have to know that its ok to be sad and to give them the opportunity to cry around you, without you crying with them, if that makes sense? x

  16. February 29, 2016 / 11:01 am

    So sorry for your loss. I always think about this even when a character in a film dies and Amelia asks where that particular character has gone. It's a really tough one but I don't think what you said will have any further questions at this age you'll just be able to explain more as they get older! X

  17. February 29, 2016 / 11:01 am

    Sorry for your loss! I think your star explains room was lovely and not a lie. She isn't in pain anymore so in that sense she is better. My daughter was 4 when we lost my Nan and I am a firm believer of telling her the truth but just as little as I can get away with. x

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