My 3 year old is freaking me out - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 29 Old 05-20-2013, 09:31 AM - Thread Starter
 
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So, my DD is 3, and she wants to talk about death A LOT. This has been going on for about a year, and I'm really struggling with it. It's not so much the questions that I mind, but being forced to think about death do often myself. I'm starting to feel paranoid and scared, all while trying to reassure her. She asks things like "Will I have to be my own friend if all my friends die?". "How can one my own friend when I die?" and poses lots of scenarios in which she dies or I die. Whenever I say something like "that won't happen for a long time" or something it feels like famous last words, like I should knock on wood. Sigh. I'm wondering how others have dealt with young children's questions about death. Moreso, I'm wondering how others deal with their own fear about death when these conversations arise?
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#2 of 29 Old 05-20-2013, 10:41 AM
 
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This is tough and I want to give you a hug because I have my own paranoid anxieties so that would be a struggle for me.  That being said, when my daughter has asked(not that often or persistently) I just try to remind myself that I am the mom and all mom's have likely had to answer these tough questions before me.   I try to take my own emotion out of the scenario and play on likely-hoods.  Most likely things will be ok a lot of the time.  If they ever are not then there are A LOT of people who love you, I say that one as my most soothing sentiment.   I want her to know that no matter what ever happens there are many, many people who love her so much and will always take good care of her.

I tell her that I used to wonder about these types of things and tell her what my mom and grandma told me.  Easy things like, "No matter what, you will always be ok."  "I love you, Daddy loves you and we will make sure you are always taken care of until it's God's turn to take care of you"  That's easy for us because she really has her own strong feelings about God that we have done pretty much nothing to foster, she has come up with that on her own.  I think you can tailor it to fit your own LO's beliefs?

 

I think it is ok to tell your LO that a lot of things she thinks about are more than likely never going to happen.  And I love the word brave.  You are brave, you have good ideas, you will always be ok because you are strong and smart.  And then reinforcing these themes in day to day life.

 

I hope you get some better advice on this!

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#3 of 29 Old 05-20-2013, 03:54 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for the thoughtful response. It made me think about how I can phrase my responses to her so they're reassuring, but more certain. I like the "people who live you" angle, because it is just a simple truth. It's funny how casually she brings these things up. She's inquisitive, not worried, and i'm the one who ends up feeling frightened by the uncertainty.
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#4 of 29 Old 05-20-2013, 05:09 PM
 
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having walked down this path myself in retrospect - all your dd wants is knowledge and honesty. it is us adults who freak out and read more into what they are asking.

 

you will see many many layers of this question for the next few years as their awareness grows.

 

so just answer the question.

 

to be very honest mama this is not a good answer.  "I love you, Daddy loves you and we will make sure you are always taken care of until it's God's turn to take care of you". its vague and a typical adult answer. 

 

better answer would be if we die you go live with __ and they will take care of you. 

 

 "Will I have to be my own friend if all my friends die?"

hmmm i'm not too sure. i've never heard that happen with anyone. but i would imagine this earth has so many people, that you would make a new friend. until then i guess you would have to be your own friend. 

 

the key is indirect talking. and showing them your thinking process. death is a great place to question and figure out life. its not an academic left side of the brain thing. its total right brain thinking. and its helpful if parents do the same too.

 

be honest and say you dont know or not sure if you are not. its better to share that than say oh no we will all be around for a while. its better to say - if directly asked - yes we could die now technically, but i hope we live for a long time. 

 

i tried really really hard to remove myself from the death question. it helped me to imagine dd's question about death is the same as her question about trees. i had to really really work on myself to not go where my dd definitely wasnt going. 

 

when dd wanted to know what happens to our bodies i gave her all the options worldwide. she then asked me what i would like and i told her - but its no available here so we might have to choose something else. 

 

soon you will see mourning. lots and lots of mourning. and crying. and dont want someone to die. be there. be supportive. dont need to say anything. u just need to have her work through her feelings instead of telling her how to feel. 

 

ex didnt know how to mourn when he first met death at age 40. i swore the same wouldnt happen to dd. she saw her first body at 3 and at 4 and 5 she helped her gparents die holding their hands when they passed. its really helped her greiving process. and it kinda gave her a unique perspective in life. 

 

and just you wait. pretty soon she'll be asking you about sex. exactly how. :) fun times ahead. 


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#5 of 29 Old 05-20-2013, 07:03 PM
 
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having walked down this path myself in retrospect - all your dd wants is knowledge and honesty. it is us adults who freak out and read more into what they are asking.

 

you will see many many layers of this question for the next few years as their awareness grows.

 

so just answer the question.

 

to be very honest mama this is not a good answer.  "I love you, Daddy loves you and we will make sure you are always taken care of until it's God's turn to take care of you". its vague and a typical adult answer. 

 

 

better answer would be if we die you go live with __ and they will take care of you. 

"But, what if they die too, mommy..."  "And what if they die?"  I have arrangements with my parents, my aunt and a family friend and my dd knows that.  There are a lot of people who love her and who take care of her, but I cannot predict the future in a presumed future where her parents die I don't know what the circumstances surrounding that are either.  Will my parents be alive?  I don't know.  But I do know, and she does know that there are a lot of people who care about her well being and she will be taken care of.  I think you may have misunderstood, I want to be and am very frank and honest with my LO.  But I also feel like it is my job to give her confidence and to soothe her fears as well.

I was a very worried child.  I lived with my mom and grandparents until I was 5 and then we moved far away, states away from my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and it was just me and my mom and I felt like that support web was ripped away.  I would have loved to know that there were people close by who could be there for me if I needed them.  That was all I wanted to know.

 

 

And also, where do the details end?  Do I indulge every morbid question with every possible scenario?  How is that going to instill confidence?

My husband goes to an AA meeting every night @ 8 which is a 1/2 hour before her bedtime.  He always says goodbye, always gives her a hug and kiss and tells her he's leaving.  But then occasionally she will get a little sad and want to know when he will be back.  Well if I'm honest I don't know and I do say that.  Then she wants to know well when do I think he will be back?  I mean, sincerely I don't know I would be just guessing, if not out right lying to say anything, I mean he could literally never come back.  He could die on his way back.  But you know what, I just tell her I think he will be back around the same time he always comes back which is around 9:15.  And you know what, he always has been.  And that's the best I feel like I can do.  Why would I offer more things for her to worry about?  She is a little girl.  I meet her where I think her age allows.

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#6 of 29 Old 05-20-2013, 11:49 PM
 
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And also, where do the details end?  Do I indulge every morbid question with every possible scenario?  How is that going to instill confidence?

My husband goes to an AA meeting every night @ 8 which is a 1/2 hour before her bedtime.  He always says goodbye, always gives her a hug and kiss and tells her he's leaving.  But then occasionally she will get a little sad and want to know when he will be back.  Well if I'm honest I don't know and I do say that.  Then she wants to know well when do I think he will be back?  I mean, sincerely I don't know I would be just guessing, if not out right lying to say anything, I mean he could literally never come back.  He could die on his way back.  But you know what, I just tell her I think he will be back around the same time he always comes back which is around 9:15.  And you know what, he always has been.  And that's the best I feel like I can do.  Why would I offer more things for her to worry about?  She is a little girl.  I meet her where I think her age allows.

uh oh you are taking honesty to another level. a philosophical level. that is not what i meant. in that sense there can never even 'be' an answer. the details dont end. because you are answering her question. not what you think the answer could be.  daddy will be back at 9:15 is the appropriate answer. no one would ever offer their 3 year old daddy may or may not come back. gosh not even their 30 year old. 

 

for a 3 year old there is no morbid question. its curiosity. they want to know. you may find it hard to answer, but to them its a simple matter and they want to know. i would always find an appropriate answer for them. 

 

and aaah now that you gave the explanation i understand what you mean by taking care of. mostly i have found parents try to reassure children without having any plans in mind. children dont like that and that's what makes it hard. they want specific plans and it seems like your dd has a sense of that. 


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#7 of 29 Old 05-23-2013, 06:47 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you, meemee.  Your point about it being just curiosity was definitely illustrated yesterday morning when she asked me, "Will I die while I'm still a little girl?"  I told her that, while some people do die when they are little girls/boys, most people die when they are old ladies/men.  She then asked me a question about the blender. 

 

I, on the other hand, freaked out all day about the possibility of her dying while she's still a little girl.  Sigh.  I hope this phase of questioning ends soon. 

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#8 of 29 Old 05-23-2013, 07:28 PM
 
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I didn't find it at all comforting to be told who was going to take care of me if my parents died. It made me obsess about it more.

I don't have a really good answer for those kinds of questions. Though if you have religious beliefs, you can pray together that she will live as long as she has hopes and dreams and goals, or that she is surrounded by caregivers who she loves and feels comfortable being with. I truly believe those kinds of prayers are effective. I guess it goes with an ever-present force that is dependable to set her mind at ease.

I wonder what triggered her thoughts about death.
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#9 of 29 Old 05-23-2013, 10:40 PM
 
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pek i think the answers depend on what age they ask the question. i am curious what age you were. 

 

for a 2/3 year old it starts with them. they are still very egocentric and they dont really at that time understand what death is about. to them the question is what happens to me. who will take care of me. one of my friends son wanted complete details of what plans and how things will happen. down to the nitty gritty details.

 

now at 4 or 5 the focus is not so much on the 'me' but on the 'how will i live without my parents'.

 

newmama - the questions wont stop. just when you are least expecting it, she will ask them. as she understands more she will ask more questions.

 

let me share with you my freakout moment. we were at the airport cafe waiting to catch a flight when dd asks me 'but exactly how do we die. what happens.' she was not beating around the bush. she REALLY wanted to know. exactly how - to such a degree that i sometimes i had to say i dont know.  so we had this intense 30 minute conversation about the dying process - from illness, accident, etc. oh boy did it take me sooo much time to settle down on the flight coz i was freaked out we were going to die. certainly not a great topic of conversation while getting on a flight. 


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#10 of 29 Old 05-23-2013, 11:23 PM
 
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I'm not sure how old I was. Little, I know that. An uncle died, and we went to the funeral. Very young. I don't know any more than that.
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#11 of 29 Old 05-24-2013, 04:09 AM
 
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Is it possible that she has held into this topic for so long because she senses how uncomfortable you are with it and feels there must be more to explore that you're not sharing? If you haven't shared with her that it stresses you but she can pick it up from your body language, tone of voice, word choices...then maybe she's trying to figure out the disconnect between your words and wht she can perceive to be the true emotions behind them. Have you ever said that some people get sad or worried when they think about dying a lot? I know you don't want to discourage her questions or make her feel bad, but surely that's a valid part of discussing death as a cultural concept and could be talked about as well?

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#12 of 29 Old 05-28-2013, 07:51 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I forgot about this thread!  We haven't had any death-talk for a few days, so it hasn't been on my mind, thank goodness. 

 

pek64 - It would be nice if we had a religion to fall back on for answers/prayer, etc.  You just made me realize that my current state of MAJOR agnosticism might be why I'm so nervous about death these days. 

 

I think that goes along with womenswisdom brought up about the possibility that DD continues to ask because she senses my discomfort with the topic.  I'm wary of talking about the sadness/fear aspect of things with her too much because I don't want to introduce those feelings to her.  Same struggle we've been having talking about snakes lately :)  I actually HAVE told her about my fear of snakes, and I'm worried that it was a mistake.  I definitely don't want to do that with the death conversation. 

 

And meemee - I love your story about the conversation you had with your daughter in the airport. I can SO see something like that happening with my DD! 

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#13 of 29 Old 05-28-2013, 10:11 PM
 
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A funny story to lighten the atmosphere?

 

My niece was 3 when my Dad died. The family explained it to her; really no response. But a few days later, she said to my brother, who was lying on the couch, "Daddy, let's play Grandad Bob. You be Grandad Bob". Bro says, "OK, I am Grandad Bob. What should I do?" Niece says, totally straight-faced: "Nothing, silly, you are dead."


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#14 of 29 Old 05-29-2013, 04:46 AM
 
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I had a conversation with my 3yo today. Background: I and my family are Christian and we go to church each week and we answer her questions from this perspective.

So, she says "Did God make me?" Yes "Why?" Because mummy and daddy wanted a baby to join our family. "Did God make [baby sister]?" Yes "Why?" Because mummy and daddy wanted another baby for our family and for you to have a baby sister. "We can have a baby brother next time." Well, no, we won't be having any more babies. "When [baby sister] dies, then we can have a baby brother."

I told her I hoped that wouldn't happen and she said "when she's a very old lady and she dies, then we can have a baby brother." I told her we would be too old to have a more babies by then and she dropped it.

I know she doesn't understand what death is but I have had recurring fears about DD2 not surviving since I was pregnant so I have been feeling slightly sick ever since.

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#15 of 29 Old 05-29-2013, 10:00 AM
 
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It is OK to teach social mores, or what is/is not appropriate to talk about.  Something like, "That is not something people like to talk about."  I'm all for answering all kid questions, but sometimes it is more appropriate to shut down that conversation.  You already answered the questions.
 

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#16 of 29 Old 05-29-2013, 10:11 AM
 
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I didn't find it at all comforting to be told who was going to take care of me if my parents died. It made me obsess about it more.

I don't have a really good answer for those kinds of questions. Though if you have religious beliefs, you can pray together that she will live as long as she has hopes and dreams and goals, or that she is surrounded by caregivers who she loves and feels comfortable being with. I truly believe those kinds of prayers are effective. I guess it goes with an ever-present force that is dependable to set her mind at ease.

 

I love the idea of praying together that she will live to fulfill her goals and dreams and be surrounded by people who love her, that is really reassuring to me, what more could you hope for in life?

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#17 of 29 Old 05-29-2013, 10:21 AM
 
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It is OK to teach social mores, or what is/is not appropriate to talk about.  Something like, "That is not something people like to talk about."  I'm all for answering all kid questions, but sometimes it is more appropriate to shut down that conversation.  You already answered the questions.
 

I do agree that it's important to provide boundaries for our kids that mimic the boundaries that they are going to butt up against in their social interactions.  I don't know how I feel about being to blunt in shutting this kind of convo down, I think answering gently, repeating what you've already said to reinforce the idea in a soothing way.  I feel like I wanted to be soothed and reassured that I was going to be ok.  This seems to be true for my dd, too.

 

I find, even as an adult, that all I really want it to know that no matter what I am going to be ok.  Learning to trust and believe that has been the strongest tool I have to move through anxiety and even panic.  I have experienced serious crises in my life, I am not a stranger to trauma, but I have always been able to find a way to move on and my therapist has helped me to understand that no matter how hard things feel or seem, faith and belief that I can get through it is what soothes me the most.  And I want to help my daughter to discover the strength of this feeling, too.

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#18 of 29 Old 05-29-2013, 01:27 PM
 
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It is OK to teach social mores, or what is/is not appropriate to talk about.  Something like, "That is not something people like to talk about."  I'm all for answering all kid questions, but sometimes it is more appropriate to shut down that conversation.  You already answered the questions.
 

woah. hmmm. to a 3 year old asking about death?

 

holy cow. if i said that to my dd - man that would make a mountain out of a molehill.

 

this is deep stuff. sex and death we should never avoid. people not talking about death i think is the crux of the problem.

 

if a 3 year old brings up 'mom what is rape' yes i can understand avoiding that question. but a simple death - trying to evade will send even worse messages to our children.

 

but ERSS i think i know what you mean in general. there are questions one can skillfully divert. i have had a couple of rare ones from dd. but never in the death and sex area. more about guns and shooting (from a newspaper kiosk).

 

one thing OP can do is be honest with her dd with her own dilema. when dd started asking i myself did not have a proper answer because i did not have a faith myself and i had no belief in heaven or earth. so where i was unsure i shared that with her. i told her what other faiths believed, but that i wasnt sure what my own faith was. when i cried when i missed my dad and brother i didnt hide it from her either. 

 

OP this is the time you should really look deep into your own issues too. why? dd has brought up questions in a different area that i struggled with. and with her questions (it really helped to just answer only the question) i was able to deal and heal my own issues. perhaps not really heal but really face them face to face instead of avoid them. 


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#19 of 29 Old 05-29-2013, 03:02 PM
 
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It is never the right thing to shut down a conversation with a child. What goes unanswered will fester, and who knows how it will next appear -- and it *will* appear again. That you can count on.
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#20 of 29 Old 05-29-2013, 03:34 PM
 
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It is never the right thing to shut down a conversation with a child. What goes unanswered will fester, and who knows how it will next appear -- and it *will* appear again. That you can count on.

That's not what I said/ meant.  I've had my kids dwell on things -- like torturing bugs -- that they need to just stop talking about.  I'm saying if their question has already been answered, it is OK to guide about what some people are uncomfortable talking about in casual conversation. 


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#21 of 29 Old 05-29-2013, 04:09 PM
 
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My older child discovered the concept of death pretty young and was really hung up on it. She had nightmares and was really worried about her dying, or me dying, and it was a real source of anxiety for her. The book that she liked the best was called something like Freddie the Leaf. But to a large extent, we just talked about it and I let her get it out. I think it's something people often do have anxiety about and sometimes the best way to deal with that is to be able to talk about it and get the fears out in the open.

I've also said that usually people die when they're really really old as a way to try to relax her, but of course she knows that isn't always the case. And I am an anxious person as well (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree) so I do have my own issues of anxiety around death. Really I just try to shield her from my anxiety and talk like it isn't that big of a deal, and then if I need to talk I talk to my husband about it.

I don't have good answers but that's what experience I have.
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#22 of 29 Old 05-29-2013, 04:26 PM
 
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That's not what I said/ meant.  I've had my kids dwell on things -- like torturing bugs -- that they need to just stop talking about.  I'm saying if their question has already been answered, it is OK to guide about what some people are uncomfortable talking about in casual conversation. 

But the child is asking mom, not making it part of a casual conversation, unless I missed something.
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#23 of 29 Old 05-29-2013, 06:33 PM - Thread Starter
 
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But the child is asking mom, not making it part of a casual conversation, unless I missed something.

 

Yes, although today she was talking about it with my mother, too, about HER mother (who died last August - which is what started all of this in death talk in the first place).  I actually DO feel a little weird about her having these conversations with my mom, because she's still very sensitive about my grandmother's death.  Sensitive, in a not very healthy way.  I'm not sure if it's cathartic or upsetting for my mother to talk about this with DD.  So, I think maybe I DO need to start giving DD the idea that talking about death is a serious topic that can be upsetting for people to talk about.  Unfortunately, I feel like this exemption does not apply to me.  As her mother, I see myself as the one who's supposed to be answering these questions.  I could see myself diverting the questions to a more appropriate time ("I'd love to talk about this when we get home"...), but I think I have to talk about it eventually.  She's not just asking the same questions over and over again.  It's like there's always a new angle...

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#24 of 29 Old 05-29-2013, 06:44 PM
 
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i think mamazee that is the nature of the concept of death. 

 

the grieving. we have to give our children the space to do that. its almost something they have to go through to process the many layers of death. dd started from 2 to about 7. at 9 she discovered suicide. we dont really talk about death. she helped her gparents die between teh ages of 4 and 5. really profound experience for her as she was actively involved in every step of the process. so much so that every time she hears a fire truck or ambulance go by she offers a silent prayer that all are ok (she saw her gpa being taken in the ambulance). it is her coping mechanism. 

 

we just should not equate sickness with death for very young ones. that is something we all have to be careful about. some people fall sick and die. yes they can but all the people who die were not sick. important difference - to be answered ONLY if asked. not offered. 

 

all i can say is i am sooo grateful we had that talk of death when we did. it is too painful for her to talk about any death these days including the morality of the death penalty. 


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#25 of 29 Old 05-30-2013, 06:35 AM
 
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Yes, although today she was talking about it with my mother, too, about HER mother (who died last August - which is what started all of this in death talk in the first place).  I actually DO feel a little weird about her having these conversations with my mom, because she's still very sensitive about my grandmother's death.  Sensitive, in a not very healthy way.  I'm not sure if it's cathartic or upsetting for my mother to talk about this with DD.  So, I think maybe I DO need to start giving DD the idea that talking about death is a serious topic that can be upsetting for people to talk about.  

 

Have you asked your Mom how she feels about your daughter asking her these questions? That's where I'd start. 

 

And I agree - a child should feel comfortable asking a parent anything, no matter the subject. 

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#26 of 29 Old 05-30-2013, 07:29 AM
 
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ooh newmama i think we cross posted so i didnt see your new reply.

 

first consider yourself incredibly lucky that your dd finds it comfortable enough to talk to gma about a topic such as this. 

 

i think its very healthy for her to see how your mom copes with the answers. seeing different angles is a great thing for kids to have. 

 

yeah i'd too like to know how your mom feels about these questions. like you said it could go either way. kids have the ability to go right to the crux of the issue. though i am sure if your mom was seriously perturbed she'd say something to you. 


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#27 of 29 Old 05-30-2013, 09:51 AM
 
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It is never the right thing to shut down a conversation with a child. What goes unanswered will fester, and who knows how it will next appear -- and it *will* appear again. That you can count on.

I totally think y'all are misunderstanding what the pp was trying to say.  You don't have to shut it down, but you can convey that the conversation makes you feel xyz(sad, scared, upset, afraid) and that sometimes people don't like to talk about things that make them feel that way.  I wouldn't ever leave it like that, I would certainly always try to answer my kiddos questions, but I understand what the pp was trying to say, I think.

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#28 of 29 Old 05-30-2013, 09:56 AM
 
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Yes, although today she was talking about it with my mother, too, about HER mother (who died last August - which is what started all of this in death talk in the first place).  I actually DO feel a little weird about her having these conversations with my mom, because she's still very sensitive about my grandmother's death.  Sensitive, in a not very healthy way.  I'm not sure if it's cathartic or upsetting for my mother to talk about this with DD.  So, I think maybe I DO need to start giving DD the idea that talking about death is a serious topic that can be upsetting for people to talk about.  Unfortunately, I feel like this exemption does not apply to me.  As her mother, I see myself as the one who's supposed to be answering these questions.  I could see myself diverting the questions to a more appropriate time ("I'd love to talk about this when we get home"...), but I think I have to talk about it eventually.  She's not just asking the same questions over and over again.  It's like there's always a new angle...

Exactly.  It is not always going to be appropriate, at all, for a child to bring up such sensitive topics, it could really hurt people's feelings.  And I think you are right, you do bear the responsibility of being the one to answer the tough questions IMO but you can tell her you want to address it another time, as long as you keep word and come back to it when you are ready.

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#29 of 29 Old 05-30-2013, 10:29 AM
 
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I totally think y'all are misunderstanding what the pp was trying to say.  You don't have to shut it down, but you can convey that the conversation makes you feel xyz(sad, scared, upset, afraid) and that sometimes people don't like to talk about things that make them feel that way.  I wouldn't ever leave it like that, I would certainly always try to answer my kiddos questions, but I understand what the pp was trying to say, I think.


Yes.  I mean to say you should always answer questions, but it's also OK to teach social mores.  I have boys so this is more of an issue I have to face--'let's not talk about poo at the dinner table,' etc.  My kids hear words they don't understand how heavy it is.  Two words we've had problems with are suicide and addiction.  I explained what the topics meant when it came up, and then my kids were playing suicide themes with toys.  And my five year old would shout out randomly "I'm addicted to ______! (some random thing he liked)."  I swiftly and completely shut down that sort of thing.  I explained and explained and explained.  They questioned and questioned, and I had to finally resort to, "Those are grown up words, don't use them." 

 

ETA: It was comedy or entertainment to them.  They are not mature enough to respect the topic.  They weren't 'real' questions, so you have to judge your child's personality and frame of reference.


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