Talking to your children about death is never easy. It’s heart-breaking to bring such a harsh reality into their perfect, untarnished little worlds. They seem so fragile to us, so it’s tempting to tip-toe around the subject and even say things that aren’t true in an effort to protect them from the truth about death. It’s important to be up-front with your children about death from the start in order to eliminate confusion or anxiety later. Here are 4 examples of things you should never say to a child who has just experienced death.

1. The Departed is Sleeping

An easy way to avoid telling your child the truth about what has happened to your loved one is to tell them that the departed is just sleeping. It’s believable because if the child sees the departed in the casket with their eyes closed, they will appear to be sleeping. However, this can lead to some serious confusion down the road and anxiety about sleep. Once the child has figured out that the departed still hasn’t woken up, weeks or months later, it’s likely that they will develop a fear of falling asleep themselves, because there’s a chance they won’t wake up too.

2. Don’t Cry

If your child is old enough to understand that death means that their loved one is truly gone, they will feel those same heavy emotions that we as adults feel as a result of a death. It’s important that you let your child grieve and share their emotions, and if that means crying, let them cry. You may think that you are comforting by telling them, “it’s going to be okay, don’t cry,” but what you’re really doing is making them feel bad for grieving. Let them know that it’s okay to cry.

3. Grandma Died of Old Age

People generally don’t die of “old age.” We say that, but what we really mean is that the person died due to an illness, brought on in their old age. Telling a child that their grandma or grandpa died because he or she was very old will lead to confusion later on. Seeing other elderly people will cause your child to wonder why they are still alive in their old age and could even lead to a fear of old people.

4. They are Lost or On Vacation

Telling a child that their loved one is lost or on vacation implies that they will come back at some point. It instills in the child a sense of false hope. Children are very observant and they remember the things that you tell them. If you tell them that their father has gone on a business trip, two weeks later your child will want to know why their father isn’t back from his trip yet.

Be honest and open with your children when talking about death. Although they may seem too young to truly understand death, it’s always better to tell them the truth. Try your best to foster conversations about death with your children so they feel comfortable talking to you.