Death can be a difficult thing for tamariki to deal with. The critical thing is for whānau to be simple and honest.

‘He’s really interested in life and death’
(from the Whakatipu booklet Te Māhuri 2, page 5)

Personal experiences and beliefs about death

Discussions with the whānau about death and dying will be very individual. It may be prompted by a particular event or concern, or just something that parents might want some help with.

Each whānau will have their own understandings and attitudes about death. This will be the same for their tamariki.

Adults will talk with their tamariki from the view of their faith, culture and beliefs. The main thing is to keep the kōrero simple and honest – whether it’s about a death itself or about the emotions of grief that come with it.


This can be a chance to talk to tamariki about how others might be feeling too:

‘People are feeling sad because [name] has died. How do you think we might help them?’

The topic of heaven might come up. It can be confusing as it’s quite an abstract idea. The idea of someone being physically dead but alive in a spiritual place can be difficult for a young child to understand.

But it’s really up to the whānau. If they have strong beliefs, they may have no problem in talking about heaven with their tamariki.

The death of a pet can be very emotional for its whānau. It might help the whānau, especially tamariki, to have some kind of farewell ritual so they can all say their goodbyes.

Pātai ki te whānau:

  • Why do you think your tamaiti has been asking about death?
  • What has their experience of death been?
  • What do you think their understanding is about death?
  • Have you talked with them about it? If so, what did you discuss?
  • What do you think is important for them to know?
  • How can you put things so they understand?

There are a number of children’s books that touch on the topic of death. As a support worker, you may be able to help the whānau choose an appropriate book. Try the local library.

Helpful resources for whānau