The questions have begun for us. “What does it mean to be dead?” “What happens when we die?” “Will we all be together in heaven?”

We have a very thoughtful and smart four-year-old who began asking those questions when we drove past a cemetery and he asked what it was. We told him the truth and the torrent of questions hasn’t stopped.

It’s something all parents deal with at some point – how do we engage our children and what do we say when they ask what happens to us when we are no longer alive? It may begin when they see a dead bug or ask what happened to the dinosaurs. It might be more emotional, like when they hear talk about a loved one passing on.

It’s a difficult topic, but there are common themes between talking about death and talking about anything challenging with our kids.  Hopefully, this will help you help the conversation with your little one about death and dying.

1. Be Ready

This is one of those conversations that you need to prepare for. Start thinking about how you will answer your child when they ask about death. Surely, you don’t want to scare them, but you don’t want to give them a false or unrealistic understanding of this topic either. It might be a good idea to game plan with your spouse for this conversation, and come up with a rough script for how to handle it.

2. Understand What Can They Handle

All of our children are different. Some are more mature at an early age while some take longer to grasp these types of concepts. You know your child and can tailor your response to their level of understanding. Take some time and consider how your child will react to what you say and build your answers accordingly.

3. Be as Honest as You Can

You would not come straight out and describe all the gruesome elements of death to a young child. You would frighten them for weeks. Rather, choose your words carefully and only be as honest as you need to be. This does not mean that you should lie to them. It means that you should be age-appropriate with your responses. If they continue to push for more and more information, then you may need to explain to them that this is a conversation better had when they are older.

4. Answer Completely

The worst thing that you can do is give your child short shrift simply because you don’t want to deal with this touchy topic. Your child is innately and naturally curious. You want them to question and wonder about the world around them. If you see this as an opportunity, it will be a small but fundamental building block in your future relationship with your child. If they feel that you are being honest and up front with them at a young age, they will more likely trust you in the future, coming to you with other challenging questions.

It is one of our jobs as parents to look our children in the eyes and tell them the truth about life. It won’t always be pretty and it often will need to be massaged but it’s better that they hear these things from us than from someone else who may not be as careful or loving as we are.