How to explain death to a 3 year old? - Mothering Forums

Forum Jump: 
 
Thread Tools
Old 09-26-2004, 11:19 PM - Thread Starter
 
beth568's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: Near Boston, MA
Posts: 307
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
My 3 year old DD has been asking more and more often who my father is, and where he is. My dad died when I was a child, and we have a picture of him on our family photo wall, and I refer to Grandpa every now and then, though I don't often bring him up unless she asks.

Lately, she's been asking more and more where he is, and why she can't go see him. I'm at a bit of a loss. It's not that I'm afraid to teach her about death; I just don't know how to put it in terms that she'll understand. When she sees dead bugs or things like that, we can explain to her that they aren't moving any more because they're dead, but that's a far cry from explaining a missing grandparent.

We don't want to tell her Grandpa is in heaven, primarily because we're not religious in a traditional sense, but also because telling her he's in another place will lead to questions about why she can't go there, call him on the phone, etc. I don't want to tell her he's buried in the cemetery, because I think the details about that could be scary for her. And I certainly can't tell her that death is like going to sleep, because the poor kid will never sleep again if we do that.

So...how to make this abstract concept real to a preschooler? I'm thinking about just trying to tell her that when someone dies, it means we can't see that person any more, but I get really stuck on the question, "Well, where IS he, then?" And I don't know whether it's made more or less complicated by the fact that she never knew my dad.

Can anyone suggest a way to talk to her about this? I don't want to make it unnecessarily complicated, but I'd like to be as honest and clear as possible. Thanks...
beth568 is offline  
Sponsored Links
Advertisement
 
Old 09-27-2004, 12:49 AM
 
farmer mama's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: within my harvest
Posts: 1,386
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
Three is a pretty hard age to make something that abstract make sense. My five year old is just now able to have some understanding of it after having animals die and then being with her grandpa as he went through the dying process. She was present for the leading up to death, the moment of and then said goodbye to his body afterwards. I think this is why she has a good understanding of what has happened. With a three year old it could be a lot harder, especially since she wasn't part of the process. Have you tried explaining in simple terms what happened to your dad? With FIL's brain tumor we just explained to kids that "grandpa became very sick, not just a cold like you or I might have, but so sick that his body couldn't work anymore. So his body died and his spirit left his body." Or if was an accident, "Grandpa's body was so hurt that it couldn't work..." My five year old was able to ask more questions and have some understanding about cancer, brain tumors, etc. It was important for her to hear that most likely this wasn't going to happen to her or us, and that we all will die but probably not until we are very old, and that this is a normal part of life. This may be a little to heavy for a 3 year old but we felt we needed to address her concerns while still being truthful. This also made me reassess my own ideas about the soul and what happens after death, and how to explain these beliefs to my kids. We also made sure she understood that his body was not going to wake up, and we did discuss how the body breaks down and turns back into earth (may not be appropriate for a 3 year old?). Good luck, I am sure her understanding will grow over time.
farmer mama is offline  
Old 09-27-2004, 01:46 PM
 
Ragana's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Chicago area
Posts: 1,984
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 24 Post(s)
Hi,

I recently posted a similar question in Grief and Loss but got no replies.

Our daughter's preschool teacher recommended the book "Lifeways". It's a pretty simple, non-religious explanation.

Hope that helps,
"Ragana"

Mom "D" to DD1 "Z" (15) and DD2 "I" (11) DH "M"

Ragana is online now  
Old 09-27-2004, 02:39 PM
 
emblmrgrl's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Negativeland
Posts: 286
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
This was something I had to explain at an early age as well... my father passed away when I was a teenager so I had the same Grandpa questions thrown at me, but I was also in school to become an embalmer when my daughter was around age 2 so she definitely had questions! I found it really easy to explain by starting with how our bodies work. My daughter knew her heart pumped blood, her lungs breathed, her brain did the thinking. Then I threw in that sometimes our bodies get so sick or so injured (in my dad's case he died in a car accident) that they just can't work anymore. I did go ahead and explain burial but I was comfortable with that. All in all, it went pretty smoothly for me... I just tried to answer anything they asked in a simplified manner! Good luck, HTH...
emblmrgrl is offline  
Old 09-27-2004, 02:45 PM
 
Blowfish's Avatar
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 35
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
I`ve told my kids that when you die, your body stops working.
You have no happy or sad thoughts in your head any more, because there is just nothing.
We have seen dead animals and I`ve said it`s like that with people to.
That`s why we bury them. (or cremate)
And we place them somewhere special, so that we always can visit them, even thought they don`t know we`re there.
Blowfish is offline  
Old 09-27-2004, 04:28 PM
 
farmer mama's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: within my harvest
Posts: 1,386
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
Oh Ragana- I am sorry I didn't see your thread. I try to respond to the ones that don't get any response even if I don't have much advice to offer. Sorry for your family's loss. I would post there now but my response would be the same as my reply to the OP.
farmer mama is offline  
Old 09-27-2004, 04:44 PM
 
Mom4tot's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: Pemberley
Posts: 15,236
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ragana
Hi,

I recently posted a similar question in Grief and Loss but got no replies.

Our daughter's preschool teacher recommended the book "Lifeways". It's a pretty simple, non-religious explanation.

Hope that helps,
"Ragana"
I'm sorry, Ragana. I did see your post and kept trying to word a reply. I have been struggling with the same isue and it has been painful for me. My parents died 6 years before Ellie was born. She knew my dh's mom, and she died just 2 years ago.

Ben (just turned 4) has been asking to see his grandpa. He asks it in such an innocent way..."do you think we could go see him tom.?"...like he has a grandfather out there that we just haven't gone to see yet. Every time he asks, I get a lump in my throat and even cry. Then I feel like I am no help to him. But, I realize that this is bringing up the issue of grief for my children...wanting them to know my parents. The truth is my parents would be crazy about Ellie and Ben.

Ben is so naturally friendly and curious. It breaks my heart to try to explain it to him, espeially when I am trying to explain it to myself.

I, too, have said what farmer mom said. I always add how much they would love him. We have even talked about dreams. I am glad to see more responses to the question...thanks for starting the thread, beth.

~Joan, Happy mom to 2 beautiful kiddos, one new puppy and 2 lovely felines
Mom4tot is offline  
Old 09-27-2004, 04:51 PM
 
TiredX2's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jan 2002
Location: it appears to be a handbasket
Posts: 20,029
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
This has come up with DD (now 5.5) but not yet *exactly* with DS (3).

We have presented life as an adventure. People want to go out and learn and do things. Eventually, people are old and they are ready to die (this does not address children dying, something I hope to avoid for a while) they do so--- going to their next adventure. DD has seemed very good with this.

 

 

TiredX2 is offline  
Old 09-27-2004, 04:58 PM
 
farmer mama's Avatar
 
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: within my harvest
Posts: 1,386
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
One thing that we do as a Halloween/ Samhain tradition is an ancestors altar. We put pictures of loved ones that have passed away, my grandmother's pearls, my dh's grandfather's pipe, etc. This year will be really special because we will be honoring FIL and my dear friend. I think we will also set a place at our table in honor of FIL. This whole experience has made me wish that we had more set rituals and traditions surrounding death so it was more clear when explaining it to my kids. Can anyone relate?
farmer mama is offline  
Old 09-27-2004, 05:15 PM
 
Mom4tot's Avatar
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: Pemberley
Posts: 15,236
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
Yes, farmer mama, I think about that too. Having ways to talk about loved ones and remember them is very important. It has made me want to pursue a scrapbook project as well as, maybe a "memory box". My ds also looks like my dad, it is sad for me that they don't have that bond. I would love for the children to have doting grandparents.

~Joan, Happy mom to 2 beautiful kiddos, one new puppy and 2 lovely felines
Mom4tot is offline  
Old 09-27-2004, 05:17 PM
 
Ragana's Avatar
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Chicago area
Posts: 1,984
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 24 Post(s)
Yes, farmer mama. And thanks for the reply.
I think that tradition is a good one. In my culture we also have a tradition of setting a place for the dead during a particular holiday honoring the dead in the fall. I like that idea. Maybe we'll do that this year.

PS The book I mentioned is called "Lifetimes", not "Lifeways".

Mom "D" to DD1 "Z" (15) and DD2 "I" (11) DH "M"

Ragana is online now  
Old 09-27-2004, 05:39 PM
 
dnr3301's Avatar
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 1,442
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
hi, forgive the typos and such, holding babe and typing one handed...

my gramma just died about a month ago. i have a 3yo dd. we were very close to this grandmother. we were with her when she died, and there when the funeral home person came to take her body away.

we told dd that gramma was very sick and very old and her body stopped working and she didn't need her body anymore. we also aren't religious and didn't want to talk heaven with her. i found that once i was able to use the wrods "dead, dying, death" that it got easier. i realized i was afraid of using those words because i knew that she didn't know what they meant, but then i realized that i use words that she doesn't know all the time, and you know what? she asks me what they mean and i tell her. why should the words abot death be any different?

now a month later, she still asks about great gramma and why doesn't she need her body any more, and we say because she's dead and you don't need a body when you are dead.

the hardest questions for us were the follow-ups, the "why"s, because i honestly don't know why we die and i don't know why i don't know, and i'm sad and angry about not being able to be with my gramma too. ("why don't we have lunch with great gramma today?" "because she's dead honey" "why?" "her body stopped working" "why?" "she's dead" "why is she?" i just don't know...)

R~mama to 3

dnr3301 is offline  
Old 09-27-2004, 06:32 PM
 
Amberlyn's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Spokane, Wa
Posts: 527
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
you have gotten most of the answers I could give. My daughter was almost 3 when my mother passed away. It was very very hard for her, as my mother was a huge part of her life (we lived with my momma from 2 months after my daughter was born until she passed as I was her caregiver). My mother was only "sick" for eight months, so she was up until the last 3 months of life, a very "Active" grandma. My daughter knew what was coming, as we never hid the fact that DD would go to her bio-dads, and when she came back "mom-mom" would not be there anymore. I know you say you arent religious (nor am I), but my friends mother got this book called "What is Heaven" by Maria Shriver. My daughter loves that book and refers to it often. She still thinks my momma lives in the clouds. She knows her body is under ground as I will take her to the cemetary any time she asks. When she asked why we can't go visit... Its because we can't get to the clouds... Only your heart can go there when you die... My DD still asks about "mom-mom" a couple times a month (she is 6.5 now). We talk, we cry, we share stories. You would be amazed at how much children retain, even from when they are that little. My DD can tell you a million memories of my momma. I think being honest is the best way to go. I can't offer much advice, just my personal story of a similiar situation. I hope it maybe helped a little.
Amberlyn is offline  
Old 09-27-2004, 06:42 PM
 
Parthenia's Avatar
 
Join Date: Dec 2001
Location: Western Mass
Posts: 1,703
Mentioned: 0 Post(s)
Tagged: 0 Thread(s)
Quoted: 0 Post(s)
We started with bugs and plants and moved from there. Bugs were okay, when we got to people, it was very difficult.

Last year dd asked me if I was going to die, and i told her, someday we all die. She totally freaked out. I tried to explain that I wasn't going to die immediately, but that everything dies. This didn't work. So we stopped at the bookstore and picked up a book called Lifetimes. While we were in the store she told the sales person that we were looking for a book that would keep people from dying . I explained to her that the book wouldn't do that, but it might help me explain death and dying in a way that wouldn't scare her.
It did serve its purpose. The book explains death in the context of birth and life, and using animals, insects and people's lifetimes as examples. I think putting it in context instead of isolating death as this horrible singular event was helpful. She even asked me to read it again last night. The book is one of her favorites.

I need visual aids to explain the heavy questions like death and sex. This was one of the simplest and best.
Parthenia is offline  
 
User Tag List

Thread Tools


Forum Jump: 

Posting Rules  
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are On
Pingbacks are On
Refbacks are Off