How To Talk To Your Kids About Death and Heaven

Death and Heaven.  Not necessarily easy subjects to discuss, even for a Christian adult.  While our faith rests in the hope of Eternal Life through Christ, for most of us, the death of a loved one who is a believer is still something with which we struggle to understand and cope with.

We may wonder how to protect the hearts of our children from pain when a death occurs in our family or circle of friends.  How to do we tackle the subjects of physical death and the hope of Heaven, without totally scaring our kids, as we ourselves are dealing with our own plethora of emotions?

Several years ago, when my oldest son was only 5, our four-year-old nephew died after an eighteen month battle with brain cancer.   We didn’t know how to explain cancer to our son, so instead we told him that his cousin went to Heaven because he had gotten “sick”.  Little did we know that because we didn’t give him enough information, he internalized that everyone he loved COULD die if they simply got “sick”; meaning a simple cold could take mom or dad away to Heaven, just like his little cousin.  It became a pretty scary thought for him, which he internalized for about a year!!

I spoke to a friend of mine who is also a therapist, because I needed to figure out how to help my son deal with his own grief and console him that there was a better than average chance that my husband and I were not going to die if we caught a cold. She told me that just like discussing the “facts of life” with our kids has to be done in intervals that answer their specific questions, as their maturity dictates, we need to also have honest communication with our kids about death.

It may be perfectly acceptable for a three-year-old to hear that grandma went to Heaven because Jesus called her home. While we will miss seeing her at Christmastime, we know that she is now in Heaven with grandpa! This helps explain why we are sad that she is no longer here with us, but also rejoicing that she is in Heaven.  But if you have an older child who needs more information to alleviate undue anxiety, it might be important to talk to them about grandma’s heart being sick, or her cancer, etc.– still reassuring them that Heaven is a wonderful place that Jesus has prepared for us!  While a lot of kids may not need any more information than that, be open to their questions and pray for guidance as you answer them truthfully, yet carefully.  Although I have no medical credentials, I would advise everyone to also enlist the help of a child therapist or pastor if the concepts of death and the afterlife are just too hard to explain.  Surrounding ourselves with a trusted, like-minded support group during times of grief is always a good idea!

The Bible reveals a few facts about what happens after we die.  We can turn to these following scriptures for comfort and use them as a resource to help our kids better understand what happens at the end of our life, here on earth.

Believer’s can face death without fear! (1 Corinthians 15:54-57) “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We will enter into the Lord’s presence at the time of our death! (2 Corinthians: 5-8) “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

Jesus, himself, has prepared a special place in Heaven for each of us! (John 14:1-3) “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Those who believe in Jesus are promised eternal life with Him after their physical death! (John 11:25-26) “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.””

If you’ve had to explain the death of a loved one to your child, how did you approach it?  What additional resources would you recommend to other parents trying to explain this  tough subject, while dealing with their own grief?  Please share in the comments section.

About the Author: Lisa Strnad is a freelance writer/blogger, who regularly contributes to What’s in the Bible? and Jelly Telly.  She is a homeschooling mom of two, who works independently in Christian media in the areas of writing, promotions and marketing. She lives with her husband and children in Nashville, TN.  Follow her blog at www.talkinglikeagirl.blogspot.com

 

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10 comments
4UiLive84
4UiLive84

My 7 year old daughter is experiencing a tremendous amount of anxiety about going to Heaven. She tells me she's, "Scared because she has never been there and doesnt know what it's like." For years I battled with similar fears, but as an adult. Fear of the unknown. She has always been wise beyond her years, but I am finding it hard to keep up with her questions that come in bursts each and every day. She had been wondering about things lately, so for some reason I thought watching the family movie, "Heaven is for Real" was an okay idea. I am very particular about what the kids watch, and I honestly did not think it would ever have this effect on her. Afterward she didn't eat for almost one week and basically had an anxiety attack. Weeks later she is still very worrysome. I pray for her and with her daily and nightly and ask God to give me the proper responses because I dont want to lead her down the wrong way. Has anyone experienced this with their chikdren. The amount of of anxiety she is experiencing is nothing I have seen in a child.

mberte02
mberte02

@4UiLive84  - My 7 year old son is going through a similar issue. Every night before bed he tells me he doesn't want to die. What do you say? Of course you want to reassure them, but you can't deny it happens. It makes me very anxious, and I begin to think about it also. Have you had any resolution that you may share with me to help with my son? Everything I read is the same online,, how to explain it. But at 7 you shouldn't think about it every day- he should be enjoying life. Please help!

SherryRiffle
SherryRiffle

Check out "Where Did Mommy Go?" by Sherry L. Riffle

jstahl
jstahl

My almost 4 year old daughter brought up at lunch today that she wishes she stayed in Heaven with Jesus. I wasn't really sure where she was going with that comment so I asked her what she meant. She said that she wants to go to Heaven and when will that be? I told her that most likely it won't be until she's much much older. She said she'd miss me if she went without me to which I said that she doesn't have to worry about that right now. The conversation continued and I'm not sure if she sensed my anxiety over the thought of her going to Heaven, but she said maybe tomorrow I'll go there. I am a Christian. There is nothing I want more for my children than to be saved. But the thoughts that she was bringing to my mind of her going to Heaven without me or me without her, were causing (and still are causing) extreme anxiety. I feel nauseous and my heart is hurting. I've been praying on this all day, but am looking for some encouragement. Has anyone else had these types of "out of the blue", somewhat "scary"conversations with their young children? 

Sarah
Sarah

I have tried my best to talk with my daughter (who is 5) about death, whenever I see an opportunity. I don't want her to be morbid, or overly fixated on the concept of death, but I want her to be prepared to deal with it when it hits close to home. Americans like to believe they are immortal. We don't like talking about death, until a tragedy strikes. But death is part of life - I want my daughter to realize that, but not fear it. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says: It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart. Francis Chan talks about this verse in "Crazy Love" and how we should be talking about it with our children. I want my daughter to see the joy in someone going to be with Jesus, and have her heart soft to those who may not know him yet. We have a lot of elderly grandparents in our lives that she is very close with. I want her to be prepared to handle it when they do go to be with the Lord, rather than watch her struggle through it and try to process it all when it hits. Thanks for posting this article - we need more advice about this out there!! All Things with Purpose

Randi
Randi

Thank you for the great scripture references regarding death. I'm definately going to use these scriptures w/ my 3 kids when I'm called to answer any questions about death that may come up. I really like 1Corin. 15:54-57. Thank you!

Jacqui
Jacqui

We have had quite a few deaths in our family in the last two years. Two were easy to explain to my children, they were my grandfather and my husband's grandfather. Both were in their late 90's. However last week my aunt died suddenly. She had custody of her two grandchildren who are 9 & 7. That one was harder to bear. For all of them I explain to my 6 year old that they went to be with God. I don't feel comfortable telling him that they went to heaven. The Bible says clearly that not everyone will be going to Heaven. It even says that not everyone who thinks they will be going to Heaven will go (Matthew 7:21+). When my children are older we will have discussions on Heaven and Hell. As much as I want my family to be in Heaven and pray that they are, when I know that they did not follow God's Word, who am I to expect God to make an exception for them?