Sometimes Christian parents struggle with how to talk with their children about difficult subjects. They don’t want to burden their children unnecessarily. Death is one of the subjects that is difficult for parents to discuss. But the principles here apply to all difficult subjects. The general rule is to speak the truth in love without overwhelming your child with more information than is necessary.
1. Tell the truth.
Sometimes, out of love, parents want to shield their children from the difficult parts of life. But parents love their children best when they tell the truth quickly and plainly. God’s law is the very definition of love, and God’s law teaches us not to lie but to tell the truth (Col 3:9; Eph 4:15, 25). Titus 2:4 says that mothers are to “love … their children.” It’s loving to be truthful. Never hide the truth from your children.
Parents should use biblical words like “death” and “died,” when they explain what happened. They shouldn’t merely say, “Uncle Steve went to be with Jesus.” They need to be clear, and say something like this: “Uncle Steve died, and his body will return to the dust of the ground, just like the Bible teaches. Death is sad. It came into this world because Adam sinned in the Garden of Eden. Unless Jesus comes back, we will all die one day.”
Another important way to tell your children the truth is to let them see your grief. Don’t hide your grief from your children. Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus (Jn 11:35). Christians rightly grieve because of death; so, allow your children to see you and join you in your sorrow. Talk to them about your loss. Tell stories, and let them share how they are feeling with you.
2. Speak to them as children.
Even though you must tell your children the truth, don’t overwhelm them with too much information at once. The Bible says that children don’t think like adults (1 Cor 13:11), and it’s right to speak to children as children (2 Cor 6:13). So give them truthful but basic information.
If your children ask more questions, be sure to answer all of their questions as plainly and simply as possible. You’ll know you’ve satisfied their minds when they stop asking questions or move on to another subject. It’s very important to be supportive of your child when you are telling them about hard things. Give them hugs. Hold them. Tell them you love them. Make sure they know you are with them and aren’t going to leave them.
3. What if the person who died did not live a life of faith?
It can be really hard to talk with children when an unbelieving family member dies. Sometimes the death of a family member is even connected to their sin. Perhaps they were involved in something foolish, and they died from their own foolishness. Maybe the person was a drug addict and died from an overdose.
The above principles still apply in these cases. With grief in your heart and eyes, you could say, “We loved Uncle Steve so much, and we prayed for him often. But he died because he was committing certain sins (you should name the sin briefly and simply here: drunkenness, etc.). Now he is in the hands of a good and merciful God.” Then tell your children how much you love them, and tell them how much you need Jesus, and they need Jesus to forgive sins and help them to repent every day.
4. Speak much of Christ.
Parents should always use the death of a loved one to speak much of the Lord Jesus. Death entered into this world because of sin. And we are all great sinners, but Jesus is a great Savior. He died in the place of sinners so that we don’t have to die forever. And He rose from the dead, showing that we can one day rise with Him and live forever with Him. Let’s trust in Him because He is good and great. He is a gentle and loving Savior of sinners, who come to Him by faith.
Death and funerals are also an important time to talk about the future resurrection. One day, all the dead will be raised, and they will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Those who lived a life of sin without turning to Christ will be condemned forever. But those who trusted in Jesus will receive His inheritance of eternal life, and they have holy lives, and good works, which prove that they trusted in Him during their lives. All who believe in Jesus will live forever with Christ in heaven, where only righteousness dwells.