8 Tips on How to Help Your African Child Cope with Death



By: Adebowale Bello, Freelance Health Writer. Medical review and editorial support provided by the Datelinehealth Africa Team



Death is a universal cord that binds everyone together. No matter your status, one thing is certain to happen to you in your lifetime - death. In Africa where death is talked about in secrecy and coded words, it can be difficult to discuss your feelings and it's even harder to discuss with your child and help them cope with the death of a loved one, be it a parent, grandparent, other family members or even a friend of your child.


Understandably, you may not want to talk to your child about death as you may feel it more appropriate to “protect” them, acting under the belief that they are too young to understand such a harsh reality.


However, remember that they probably have come across the notion of death in many circumstances. It could be in the form of a dead pet or insect or death of a favorite character in a TV cartoon show or in TV news cast. Sadly, sometimes they may experience the death of a loved one.


Children of different ages and intellect are known to grieve differently, but their overall curious nature makes it natural for them to ask questions sometime repeatedly about death and express poor coping feelings. It is very important to support and help them to understand what death is, why it happens, who it affects and how to cope with it?


This blog post provides eight tips to help you tactfully discuss death with your African child and help them cope with the realities of death in age, culture and intellectually appropriate ways.


1. Keep an eye on your child


It is important that you keep an eye on your child to check their well-being whenever a family member or a friend of theirs dies. Talk with them and ask about their feelings and well-being. Let them know that you are there to love and care for them and that they should be free to talk with you or ask you any questions that they have.


2. Be honest


Whenever you talk with your child about death, be completely honest. This implies using simple and truthful words to help your child understand what has happened.


If your child is not old enough to understand how sleep and death are similar, avoid making such references as this may linger in their mind and create a fear of sleep.


Here are some helpful statements you can make,


“When someone dies, their body stops working, they don't feel anything again and can’t talk or play with us.”


"After someone dies, we would not see or talk to them anymore but we can remember them and keep them in the things we think about.”


3. Encourage questions


Naturally, your child will have questions running through their mind, encourage them to ask and reassure them that you would do your best to provide answers to their questions. 


They may not ask their questions immediately or they may ask the same questions repeatedly. A mild, comforting answer would calm their fears.


Here are some questions which your child may ask:

  • Where did they go?
  • Will I ever see them again?
  • Why did they die?
  • Did I do something to make them die?
  • Will I die too?


In providing answers to their questions, it is important that you do so in a quiet and safe place, thoughtfully and honestly, speaking slowly and clearly, using simple words and not engaging in the promotion of local myths. It is also important to pause off and on as you give yourself time to manage your feelings as well as give your child time to understand what you are saying and to express their feelings too.


4. Allow them to cry


Crying is a natural way of expressing our pain and sorrow when we feel grief. Help your child to understand that it's okay to cry - it's okay to feel sad.


“If you are sad and crying, tell them how you are feeling and reassure them that there is nothing wrong with showing your feelings and expressing those feelings to others. This will help children to better name, experience and show their own feelings.” - UNICEF


5. Be attentive to their grief process and ask direct and open questions about their well-being


Unlike adults, young children, depending on their age, can go through several emotions quickly. One minute, they are sad and the next, they are playing around in delight. This does not mean that your child is insensitive or doesn't feel worried by what has happened.


Pay close attention to their reactions to get ideas of how they are coping. Ask direct but open questions about their well-being, so as to know when to seek professional help.


Here are examples of some direct but open questions you may ask:

  • “Is the death of grandma (or whoever) making you very sad or not?”
  • “Are you having trouble sleeping or eating well or not?”
  • “How are you doing at school; are you happy or not?”


6. Seek professional help


Seeking professional help is important, especially if you notice your child struggling to cope with grief. These professionals help by providing personalized support to your child, allowing them to express themselves and may teach them strategies that can help them cope with grief.


7. Watch cartoon movies with them


Watching local or foreign cartoons with your child can serve a dual purpose - recreation and an opportunity to teach.


For example, a 2017 study by Professor Kelly Tenzek, of the department of communication, University of Buffalo, analysed 57 Disney movies and concluded that they were therapeutically effective for children and adults alike.


Animated movies like The Lion King, Bambi and Frozen contain main characters dying and this can be a good conversation starter regarding death.


“These are important conversations to have with children. How other characters in the cartoon movies portray their responses to dying can help children understand the nature of expressing emotion,” says Prof. Tenzek.


Watching these movies with your child helps you connect with them and these films can be of great help.


8. Offer religious guidance


Religion is a mainstay in Africa and while explaining death to your child, it's important to offer guidance that aligns with their beliefs (if they have any) or that of the household. This provides support and comfort as they cycle through various emotions.





In conclusion, discussing about death with your African child and helping them to cope with the grief require compassion and open communication. Helpful tips and skills to adopt, include showing empathy, being honest and truthful, being observant of signs of poor coping in order to seek professional help early and using tools such as animated movies or cartoons to enrich your child’s understanding of the notion of death and how to cope with it.




1. UNICEF. (n.d). How to talk to your children about the death of a loved one. Accessed May 9, 2024. Available from: https://www.unicef.org/parenting/child-care/how-talk-your-children-about-death-loved-one

2. The Guardian. ‘Grandma is dead’: five tips for talking to children about death. [Internet. 2017 Oct 23].Accessed May 9, 2024. Available from: https://amp.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2017/oct/23/grandma-is-dead-five-tips-for-talking-to-children-about-death

3. Tenzek, K. E., & Nickels, B. M. (2019). End-of-Life in Disney and Pixar Films: An opportunity for Engaging in Difficult Conversation. OMEGA - Journal of Death and Dying. 80(1),49-68. https://doi.org/10.1177/0030222817726258. Accessed May 9, 2024.




Coping with grief and loss: Tips for Africans




Published: May 13, 2024

© 2024. Datelinehealth Africa Inc. All rights reserved.

Permission is given to copy, use and share content for non-commercial purposes without alteration or modification and subject to source attribution.





DATELINEHEALTH AFRICA INC., is a digital publisher for informational and educational purposes and does not offer personal medical care and advice. If you have a medical problem needing routine or emergency attention, call your doctor or local emergency services immediately, or visit the nearest emergency room or the nearest hospital. You should consult your professional healthcare provider before starting any nutrition, diet, exercise, fitness, medical or wellness program mentioned or referenced in the DatelinehealthAfrica website. Click here for more disclaimer notice.

Untitled Document