NPR Story: How to Discuss Death with Children

Mar 4, 2019 | 0 comments

Today’s “Morning Edition” program on National Public Radio featured this story: The Dog Isn’t Sleeping: How To Talk With Children About Death. It’s a great introduction to a new podcast, Parenting: Difficult Conversations.

Education reporter Cory Turner spoke about his childhood personal introduction to death, the trauma of learning the family dog had been euthanized. His parents reluctantly broke the news to him over Thanksgiving dinner on his 7th birthday in 1983.

Art by LA Johnson/NPR

Hint: use the word death. Don’t use euphemisms. Saying the dog was “put to sleep” only makes a child’s thoughts about sleep, and not waking up, terrifying.

That same day, death had also come to Sesame Street. In what became one of the show’s most famous episodes, Big Bird learned that Mister Hooper, who ran Sesame’s corner store and lovingly made his birdseed milkshakes, had died. Actually, the actor who played him had died, and it provided the opportunity to teach children about death.

Cory Turner wrote on NPR’s website:

What followed is a master class in how to talk with young children about death. My co-host for Life Kit’s audio guide Parenting: Difficult Conversations, Anya Kamenetz, and I revisited that episode with Rosemarie Truglio, a developmental psychologist and senior vice president of education and research at Sesame Workshop, and together we distilled it to a handful of useful takeaways for parents.

The six tips that follow are invaluable. Look at the story for all the details.

  1. Be honest and concrete. Yes, that means using the “D” word.
  2. Take it slowly. Kids process death in bits and pieces.
  3. It takes a village. Relatives can help.
  4. Grownups, it’s okay to cry. It’s very powerful and educational to display your own emotions.
  5. The funeral rule: Give kids a choice about attending, with information about what to expect they’ll see.
  6. Keep the hope alive. Let kids know that everything will be okay.

Life Kit is NPR’s family of podcasts for navigating your life — everything from your finances to diet and exercise to raising your kids. Look for new podcasts each month. Sign up for the newsletter to learn more and follow @NPRLifeKit on Twitter.

Listen to all of NPR’s Parenting: Difficult Conversations episodes.

A Good Goodbye