Existential thoughts in children - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 7 Old 07-06-2011, 07:19 AM - Thread Starter
 
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My 5 yo dd has been asking questions a lot lately about what happens to us when we die. She goes to a Christian preschool and they do talk about heaven and I've told her that we go to heaven to be with God. After a few weeks she tells me that she believes in reincarnation. She didn't know the word reincarnation but what she described as her belief as to what happens to us after death is essentially reincarnation. I told her the word for what she thought and just left it at 'it's possible'. Apparently she's really been giving this some thought but I can't believe at 5 she's already thinking about these things. 

 

 

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#2 of 7 Old 07-06-2011, 07:57 AM
 
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this topic came up a lot with my son when he was about 2 1/2, and I had to struggle to talk with him in a way that seemed age-appropriate. It *really* took me by surprise at that age! Now at 6 1/2 it seems easier to me. Also more socially acceptable, though I still find many adults are quite uncomfortable with the topic of death. Its an uncomfortable topic and some people just don't think kids ought to be considering this...

 

It has come up with DS at points since then (as well as questions about religion- we are not religious but he knows several families who are- and also about death, afterlife, etc). I decided early on to be as totally honest as I could be, but also, as you seems to suggest, to sometimes let questions remain open... "that is an interesting question and lots of people have thought about that" sort of convos. I try to be respectful about other people's beliefs while being honest about my own.

 

Also, thinking about resurrection (which figures prominently in the Christian belief system) and reincarnation seem kind of related to me... could be where some of the idea is coming from?

 

I actually focused a lot at the younger age with my son on things like the life cycle... (taking some focus off of the death of humans and his fears of us dying, which came out a lot at the same time)... we gardened and composted, which was a good opportunity to look at natural cycles of birth, death, subsequent generations, the ways that the body of one plant or animal end up being used by others...


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#3 of 7 Old 07-06-2011, 08:37 AM
 
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My kids wore me out with that topic.

 

My dad died with DS1 was 1.  When DS1 was 5 and DS2 was 3, they both talked a lot about death and what happened and what happened to my dad and what happens when people die. It was sort of an obsession.

 

I made a huge mistake in this set of conversations. After days and weeks of this topic, DS1 said "I don't think your Dad really died." In a fit of frustration, I snapped off a smart ass remark: "Nope. He totally didn't die. He ran off and joined the pirates."  This delighted my boys and for almost a year they told everyone they knew that their Grandpa ran away to join the pirates and that's what happened when you die. You join the pirates.

 

We went through it all again, when my mother and my mother-in-law died last year. My kids (7 and 5) wanted to know everything about death, funerals, and dying. We had many talks about when they were going to die and when my husband and I were going to die. They talked about it a lot. DS2 planned my funeral, including the songs. We had lots of talks about what different religions believe and what we believe.

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#4 of 7 Old 07-06-2011, 11:22 AM
 
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you know our kids each have their thing.

 

dd is a deep thinker. has always been. its her personality.

 

we have had a lot of existential thoughts since seh was 2 1/2. reincarnation, the idea of spirit, that death is not the end has always been present in dd since she first started talking about this topic. 

 

most of my answers were i dont really know for sure. i dont know if anyone knows for sure. at that time i was not involved in any kind of religious life. 

 

by 3 i started looking and found meditation. and dd chose to go with me and she started too with meditation at 3. she'd start meditating with us and then fall asleep. again it wasnt really religious. 

 

i really have thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of dd's personality. i think that has helped us bond soo deeply. we've had long talks about what/how things could be. mainly coz i told her i have no clue, when i admitted i myself am not sure where i stand.

 

at 4 when someone tried telling dd in the middle of her tantrum that god would be upset by her behaviour and punish her, she yelled back 'my mom would never do that to me, so why would god do that. he loves all of us and my god would never get angry and punish'. 

 

for us those very thoughts has helped dd interact with other kids even though she doesnt really fit in with them. it has hugely helped her deal with bullies (though her understanding of bullies came from Bridge to Terabithia) and others who she feels are unkind towards anyone. morality is huge for her and that is what also makes her really upset. and thus adds to her anxiety and so having meditation is really helpful to her. 

 

also our lives itself provided a practise ground for dd. from 4 to 5 she actively helped me take care of her dying gparents. she was there holding their hand as they passed. she saw the beauty of death and it has definitely had a v. subtle but huge impact on her. she did see her first dead body at 3 (our neighbour) and i think that really helped her not be afraid of it. 'mama she looked so calm, she looked like she was sleeping.' it moved her deeply and made her understand there is more to death than just being gone. 

 

however i will say i dont quite understand what existentialism truly means. and i may be stretching the definition here. 


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#5 of 7 Old 07-06-2011, 03:00 PM
 
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Originally Posted by meemee View Post

however i will say i dont quite understand what existentialism truly means. and i may be stretching the definition here. 


I think this thread is more about philosophical questions than existentialism per se. 

 

My dad was a philosopher, so I've always responded to questions and ponderings by my children they way he did with me and my siblings: "What a great question! That's something that the greatest minds throughout human history have thought about and written about and discussed. No one really knows, but it's great fun to think about. What do you think?"

 

Miranda


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#6 of 7 Old 07-07-2011, 06:08 AM
 
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It's fairly typical for children to develop an awareness of death at around age 5. It may be earlier especially if the child is confronted with the death of a pet or family member or they are taught about life and death eg. in church. I think at first they tend to think of death as an altered state - the dead person is "sleeping" - without an understanding of the permanency of the end of biological function of the body. Which may make beliefs like a heavenly after-life and reincarnation attractive and accessible to them. (Not that I am questioning those beliefs). So it's fairly natural for a 5 y.o to be asking questions about death. It would be interesting if the child was asking existentialist questions about the meaning and purpose of life, the state of the modern human condition etc. I think that would show an awareness beyond typical child development for a 5 y.o.

 

I agree with emmaegbert's approach to the subject of death, which is explored in this study from Queensland University about children's understanding of death:

 

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by emmaegbert View Post

 

 

I actually focused a lot at the younger age with my son on things like the life cycle... (taking some focus off of the death of humans and his fears of us dying, which came out a lot at the same time)... we gardened and composted, which was a good opportunity to look at natural cycles of birth, death, subsequent generations, the ways that the body of one plant or animal end up being used by others...


There are some good books aimed at children about the cycle of life and death in the natural world, that go beyond the simply supportive kind of book that is often used to help grieving children deal with loss. A child wondering about the process of death may find them interesting and useful.
 

 

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#7 of 7 Old 07-08-2011, 05:24 AM
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minkin03, it's interesting that as a Christian you are open to the idea of reincarnation.  I am not a Christian and don't believe in reincarnation either, but I applaud your answer to your daughter.

 

The Queensland study looks interesting.  In our case with DS6, we introduced him to the concept of death early and often.  I got him a hamster early on, partly with the idea that it would die within a couple of years and provide a good learning experience, and we've had some pet fish funerals.  We also don't restrict his viewing and reading very much, and in some of his favorite movies and books characters die.  He seems okay with the concept of death.

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