How should you refer to someone who has died? Which phrases should you use? Why is it important to be honest with children about death?

Join Alex from our Children and Young People’s bereavement support team to hear her top tips on being open and clear when discussing death with children. You can read more on our Talking About Dying page.


“Language is really important to be mindful when you’re speaking about death and dying, especially if you’re talking to a child or young person. The reason that we focus a lot on this within bereavement work is because children of different ages have a different understanding of death.

“Very young children will struggle to understand the permanency of death. Language such as lost or gone to sleep can be very confusing for a child of a young age. They may think that that person is coming back or that they can find them- they’ve just got lost.

“Language such as gone to sleep can cause a lot of anxiety. We know that young people take things at face value- quite literal. So they might believe that if they go to sleep, something bad might happen to them because somebody has died and we’ve used language such as gone to sleep.

“It’s just about using really concise, clear language when we’re speaking to young people because again that helps them process death. It helps them process what’s happened to their important person.

“Thinking about using the words ‘died’ or ‘dead’- it can feel quite harsh when you’re speaking to a very young child. But actually what you’re doing is helping them clearly understand what’s happened that that person won’t be coming back.

“Sometimes it’s good to explain to young people why someone has died. Using language such as ‘unfortunately they got very unwell and the doctors couldn’t make them better. They tried lots of different medications. But for example, mummy or daddy had cancer and they couldn’t get better and they died. It can feel really harsh but what you’re doing is helping them to process what’s happened.

“Other things about language. Being mindful about the relationship that the young person might have had with the person that’s died. So often we use phrases just naturally like loved one. But actually if that person had a difficult relationship with the person that’s died, that can be quite damaging and difficult for them.

“We try and use language like significant person or important person, because it’s really important to think about the complexities of death because of the relationship they’ve had with that person when they were alive.”

For more information, download our free language guide to support you when talking about death.

If you’re affected by any of the topics covered here or wish to talk, you’re welcome to contact our Hear to Help support line. Phone (01423 856 799), text (01423 200 118) or email Leave your contact number and our team will call you back within 1-5 working hours.