On a more serious note…

Okay, a question was posed to me earlier today about how to tell your young child about death.  Particularly about a person that has died, as opposed to a pet (although in my head, my pets are people, too).  I’m not 100% sure what I’d say to Gavin if we had to tell him that someone he knows has died, but I think I’d actually use the words “dead/death” and mention that the person went to Heaven.  I’m not sure how much he’d understand, but he really wouldn’t need much of an explanation at this age.  I mean, he’s only 3-1/2 years old, so he’s not really going to understand about a soul or how the loved one will stay in your heart, etc.  I think I would make sure he’s having a quiet moment, without the distraction of toys or movies, and I think it might go something like this:

Me:  hey Gavin?
G: what?
Me:  do you remember Mr. Brown?
G:  yeah.
Me:  well, Mr. Brown died today, sweetie.  He was very old and died and went to Heaven.  Do you know what that means?
G:  yeah (he initially says “yeah” to everything until it sinks in)
Me:  Mr. Brown is with Jesus in Heaven.
G:  Mr. Brown wit Jes-us in Heb-ben.

and I would probably leave it like that.  We, thankfully, haven’t had to try to explain death to Gavin, but a friend of mine with an almost 4-year old has been hit with the decision on what to tell her son about the passing of a family friend (I believe the deceased is quite a bit older…) .  What would you do?  Any of you more experienced moms out there have any ideas or suggestions?

About the Author

Colleen

This is a blog where I will share my adventures and mundane tasks as a work-out-of-home-mom. I now have 2 kids and my wonderful husband, so the juggling has gotten a little bit more tricky (man-on-man defense). We also have 2 dogs and 3 cats (we used to have 4) so as you can imagine, our household is pretty busy. Since I never feel like I'm being listened to, I figured I'll just start talking at the general Internet community and see what happens.

12 Comments

Karen

I’d like to read some comments. Sadly we had to introduce death to our 2 year old when her uncle was killed in a car accident. We were honest and truthful and said that he believed in Jesus and went to heaven. It was a vague concept to a kid.

Cee

I used to babysit a little girl, and when she was three, one of her relatives died. I remember her mom explaining that the relative died and that meant he was living with Jesus in heaven. The little girl responded with other qts like, “with the angels too?” and “what to angels wear.” I think that’s a good approach to introduce the idea of an afterlife to a young kid. Must be hard if you arent religious though!

Burgh Baby's Mom

People need to hurry up and comment; I want to see what they say. There is one major disadvantage to all of my husband’s grandparents still being alive (all 8 of them–his parents are divorced and remarried). Sometime during her childhood, we’re going to have to tell the Toddler what happened to so-and-so. I dread that part of it more than anything.

Colleen

Yeah, I’m not much help anyways because ALL of my 7 grandparents are gone…and so are all 4 of Justin’s…and even though we lost the last 4 after Gavin was born, he was only 2-1/2 when the last one passed and had no idea what I was telling him. Unfortunately, he barely knew his great grandparents, either, since we live hundreds of miles away from the rest of our families.

Madame Queen

Okay, I commented a while ago but my comment never appeared? Anyway, I thought your advice was pretty good, but I also think it depends on the age of the child involved. Little ones just don’t get it. But I would probably say the same thing you said.

Also, when I was about 8 a girl that I went to camp with drowned in the camp swimming pool. I remember talking to my mom about it and she let me go to the funeral home for the visitation. I think she thought it would help me process it. But again, it all depends on the age of the child.

jen

The problem for me is that my (almost) 4yr old only hears from this woman maybe once a month anymore due to my going back to work. Do I tell him she died even though he might not realize that he hasn’t seen/heard from her in a while?

Colleen

When I was discussing this with a co-worker, she brought up a point that may or may not apply, but what if other kids have been told that the woman has died and they say something and it confuses him? In my head, just telling them straight-out might just be the easier route in the long-run…no explaining to him later if the questions come up, no explaining to others if they bring up the subject and he’s within earshot. I dunno. I’m very comfortable with death and dying and maybe that’s why I would tell him. (and um, I’m comfortable with death and dying NOT because I’m like some weird cult-follower…I just see it as a continual part of our existence, mostly due to my faith)

Colleen

also, maybe if you feel he needs an explanation, specify that Mrs. So-and-So was very very old and that’s what eventually happens when you’re very very old, and that it’s alright to miss her. I dunno…trying to remember what my mom told me when my “Little Grandma” died (my great grandmother was about 4’9″). I think I was right about 5 or 6. Ultimately it’s your decision.

oh, and Madame Queen…sorry about that! We have a back-up thing so that my site doesn’t go down everytime our provider loses its mind, and the one weird little caveat to the back-up is that if any comments are left while it’s on back-up, those comments are not saved. 🙁 And go-figure, on one of the first nights we have my site on back-up, our provider lost its mind. Just neither Justin nor I got a chance to see what comments were left during the down-time so that we could copy and paste them once we were back-up.

Burgh Baby's Mom

I just clicked over to Justin’s site and saw the airplane video . . . you would not believe how hard “shake your tail” made me laugh. Gavin is hysterical!

Karen

Just a thought on the funeral. We haven’t allowed any of our children to attend funerals yet. When my BIL was killed our daughter was an only child and 2 years old. We felt she was much too young. It’s difficult to understand death and we felt it would have been traumatic to have her see him in the coffin. My hubs grandmother passed away a few years ago and we still didn’t let the kids go. We chose for them to remember Gram as she was, and not have nightmares about her at the funeral home. There’s just a certain age, or maturity level, that tells parents what their kids are ready for.

But we’ve also learned that talking is so very, very important. We thought that our daughter understood all about Gram being very old and very sick. She’d had many surgeries and had been hospitalized for months. To us it was cut and dried. To my daughter she equated surgeries with death and nearly freaked when Micah needed surgery. She was sure he was going to die.

deb.opks

I agree with what everyone has said so far. It really depends on the child’s age, and I let my child take the lead on how much they want to know. I keep it pretty general at first. My oldest daughter was 5 when 9/11 happened and I wasn’t going to tell her too much about it but the school did. I was upset about it at first, but many children had been told so it was probably good they addressed it. I would have preferred to do it myself, though.

I have taken my children to funerals of my aunts and uncles when they were younger, but I didn’t let them go to the casket. They really didn’t understand what was going on and didn’t really know the person. My father has some major medical issues and I fear we will be attending a funeral sometime (hopefully not too soon). My oldest daughter is very sensitive and we have tried to address her concerns, but don’t want her to think that a hospital stay will make him all better. She’s 11 though. I have not explained as much to my 5 year old.

Heather

I think I would do the same as you. My daughter is only 2.5, so I’m not sure she’d even get that much, but I would still try to explain that whoever it was is in heaven now. This is actually a big fear of mine since we have some elderly family and it’s inevitable that the time will come.

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