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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: May 2011

5 - Talking to Children about Death in Educational Settings


Children are exposed to death at home, at school, and in the media. It has been estimated that approximately 4–7 percent of children experience the death of a parent by the time they are sixteen years old (Hogan & DeSantis, 1996; McCarthy & Jessop, 2005). Others will experience the death of a sibling, a grandparent, or other family member. The death of a loved one affects not only the child, but also has a ripple effect on the rest of the children in the classroom. Alternately, the class as a whole may experience the death of a member of the school community (e.g., teachers or staff) or the death of an individual in the media (e.g., Michael Jackson). In other cases, children may be exposed to the media reports of a national or global tragedy (e.g., the earthquake in Haiti). Children who experience death will have a range of reactions in a variety of settings, including school, where they spend much of their time (Corr, Nabe, & Corr, 2003). Thus, schools are a critical setting for children who are dealing with death and loss.

Talking to children about death is a common problem faced by educators who are confronted with children's questions. It is a challenging subject and one that is often ignored and avoided. Death is associated with negative feelings such as discomfort, sadness, anger, and fear. How someone speaks to children about death depends on that individual's own beliefs and attitudes.

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