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How do you tell children about death?

When a child asks about death, how do you discuss the topic with him/her? Are you concerned that even a compassionate explaination may invoke depression or nightmares?

By Diogenes1972
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17 comments

1

I don't recall if I did specifically... too long ago, my kids are grown. I can imagine spouting out some platitude like "poor thing" if we saw a dead squirrel in the street or something. but I don't recall them specifically asking nor myself specifically answering.

aintmisbehaven Level 4 Dec 4, 2018
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0

I always figured it out with pets mum and dad would explain what happened to the goldfish,cat,dog or what ever and dad was a catholic so he said they had there own place in heaven but I soon figured out dead was dead

StephenKeane Level 3 Nov 28, 2018
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0

Flat out to tha point

Blakadow Level 4 Nov 28, 2018
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2

I had a terrible time with my daughter! She would be sitting there playing with her toys, around age 3 or 4, then suddenly stop playing & wail "I don't want to die!" It was so awful--I felt utterly helpless as I don't want to either!

I tried a few approaches--telling her about different ideas that people have about death & what, if anything, happens next. & I tried to make it sound like a normal part of life that is supposed to happen with every living thing, so it must be right. I was kind of going for a sense of completion...trying to be somewhat positive. I would point out a dead animal or insect & say "It was all done being a butterfly" or whatever it was. But I would also say that the squirrel or possum wasn't being careful crossing the road & didn't get to finish living...

The eventual outcome (like after 2 very distressing years) was, I think, that between hearing about the idea of reincarnation as one option & my choice of words regarding bugs being "all done being bugs" was that she decided she would be reincarnated as some sort of animal. One kind of funny story--we were crossing the street & I said we needed to be careful not to be run over, & she rather too enthusiastically said "And then I can be a lion!!" Rather taken aback, I said that we were vegetarian & she'd have to eat dead animals if she were a lion. Her reply: "But I would have a lion mouth!"

I guess I bumbled my way through--she's not locked away in a mental institution some where. She seems happy, capable & self confident, & she hiked the Appalachian Trail by herself in one season when she was 20.

Carin Level 7 Nov 27, 2018
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2

My son has SPD so I was curious when this day came of the questions about death and dying how would I respond. I ended up doing what my mom did with me. I asked him what he thought. It gave him the space to unpack what his then 7 year old mind was exploring. He then asked what I thought. I was careful not to push what I thought onto him by simply taking ownership and saying it’s okay to have his own thoughts and opinions. He actually takes the death of animals harder than people so far. Except as a now teen he talked about suicidal thoughts. Each time we come to this deep and vulnerable place I notice he needs to unload, purge, and unpack. And I go through this process with him as often as I can. He’s never had nightmares or depression from these discussions but it’s often helped his anxiety to feel free to unleash his thoughts in a safe place. Also I’ve never hidden death from him. He’s been to human/animal funerals/vets. And since he rescues animals daily he’s been exposed to the cycle of life. And we often talk about the pets we’ve lost and miss. We lost two cats last year.

angbet41 Level 4 Nov 27, 2018
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2

It's not really that difficult - they get the concept of death - most kids have killed a bug or two in their lifetime. It's how to deal with loss following the death of a loved one that they'll likely need help with.

SLBushway Level 6 Nov 27, 2018
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9

The important thing is, you talk about it. You don't whitewash it or give happy-angel talk to make it nice. And you come back to it because loss is something which is felt in waves. Just because some children are quiet on the topic doesn't mean it's okay. My daughter had a cousin who was a few years older very unexpectedly die when he was a teenager. It really bothered her he wasn't specifically brought up at family meetings like Thanksgiving... she was so right. Death and sadness are an inseparable part of life, even for very young people.

PalacinkyPDX Level 7 Nov 26, 2018
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6

This is a topic that hits very close to home for me. My father passed away when I was just 5 years old. I can tell you that, at that age, there was no way I could fully comprehend what that meant. I remember my mom showing me a book and in it the family cat had died.

From what I've been told, I didn't show much emotion. With that, I think my mom may have thought there was something wrong with me. I know that it traumatized me in ways that I can only see now that I'm older. Some of the fears and anxieties that I had and still have probably stem from losing my father at such a young age.

I realize that I didn't really answer your question. Just offering perspective.

daitheflu317 Level 6 Nov 26, 2018
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To one day,not have your father,would shake up anybody,perhaps your young age,shielded you somewhat?

Thank you for sharing that. I know that must remain hard to talk about.

6

I do it as privately and compassionately as possible. I let them know that any emotions they feel or want to express are acceptable. Depression and nightmares happen. Being there to help them work through those issues and get beyond them is important. Life has suffering, they need to learn how to navigate that early on and in a safe, loving environment.

The worst part of parenting is being aware of your child's suffering and not being able to immediately alleviate it. It eases the pain to know that they are skilled, competent, and fully able to cope with such emotions.

Donotbelieve Level 8 Nov 26, 2018
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2

The Death of a beloved pet is probably the best teaching tool, most Dogs have about 12 years(some exceptions,but usually small Dogs,live longer),Cats can vary,breed, and environment play a factor in their lifespan.

Mike1947 Level 7 Nov 26, 2018
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6

When she was really little I told her that when someone (people and pets) dies it’s because their body just can’t work anymore, so we hold the memory of them and times we spent together in our hearts.
She’s 9 now and we’ve discussed brain activity, and how neurons and stuff shoot around like electricity in our brain making us alive, once that electricity stops so does our consciousness and we die, much like when u take the electricity away from a bulb the light dims and fades away.
We’ve discussed that some people believe in a heaven and some people think u get born again in a different body, she knows I’m fine with her believing whatever she wants but is quite skeptical.

Every kid is different, u have to explain it in the best way that you think your kid will understand.

BecB Level 4 Nov 26, 2018
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Really good approach. Rational but compassionate, and always being ready to answer and take time for their questions. Don't we, as adults, wish for someone like that in our grown up lives ?

4

Depends on how old and sensitive they are.

I would test the waters by telling them what other people believe. Reincarnation, Heaven, hauntings, etc. and let them pick whichever they feel most comfortable with until they are old enough to have a more serious talk.

Nightmares are a part of life. And if they have them, a few weeks of not dying will soon see them distracted by something less grim.

MLinoge Level 5 Nov 26, 2018
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2

..at their speed…

Varn Level 8 Nov 26, 2018
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1

Life evokes nightmares. So does death. All i can say is " yes, as long as there have been humans, we have always wondered what happens after we die, and many have come up with ideas of what they think might happen, and everyone has to find out for themselves what they believe. But i think, theres no other way it could be, our bodies can't work forever, and we have to do all we can while we are alive, to do our best each day and try to reach our potential. And if there is any reason why we must die, maybe its so that we can appreciate our lives more, because we know it doesnt last forever."

Punkrockgirl77 Level 5 Nov 26, 2018
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8

It's not a problem unless you really suck at talking to kids.

CommonHuman Level 6 Nov 26, 2018
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So many people do, sadly.

3

Good question....think with young children the whole heaven thing is handy .Giving them the ..I know ..false belief ..that when you die ..there is something/ somewhere..good that you..or a pet goes too. Attempting to instill the finality of nothingness ..is way too harsh when a child is trying to get their head around loss..and the grieving process .I realise this is a "cop out " but bereavement has to be handled sensitively as ultimately it will impact upon how they deal with loss ..in later life .

Santa is dead ...# doesn't exist. .Come on ..!!!

No presents this year kids ..cos God doesnt exist .Not maybe the answer I should be giving ..but it 's as sanitized as I can put it without destroying a childhood fantasy ...

Jaydee123 Level 5 Nov 26, 2018
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