How hard this is. There is no way we can protect children from the pain of their reactions, however much we want to.
The following suggestions come from listening to children telling us what helps them. Children are very much aware of what is going on around them. If adults try to protect them too much they begin to feel excluded and this may lead to anger and resentment later on.
If possible, choose somewhere comfortable and familiar where it is possible to sit close together.
Ideally a parent or someone very close to the child. It is helpful to have someone else near by for ongoing support for both of you.
What to say
Use simple language, appropriate to the age of the child.
Tell the truth, but find a balance between telling the raw truth and being sensitive.
Do not use euphemisms
Do not use phrases such as ‘Gone to sleep’, ‘Gone on a journey’, ‘God has taken him’, or ‘lost’. These will only confuse to children and can lead to difficulties later. Use words like ‘dead’ and ‘died’, explaining what these words mean if necessary. For instance, a dead persons body no longer works, their heart no longer beats, they no longer breathe, eat, speak, feel pain, they will not come back to life.
Keep it simple
It is hard for children to take in too much information. Be ready to answer questions, immediately and over the next days, weeks, months and years.
There is no one right way of telling children bad news. Be open to their needs. Do not be afraid of sharing your emotions. It helps them to understand their own. Find ways of comforting each other.