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Honest discussions about death.

402 Views 7 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  momof4peppers
My not-quite 3.5 year old son has been asking some questions lately about death. Death has never been a taboo subject in our family. Primarily b/c I've had quite a few relatives die and when DS has seen pictures and asks where those people are, I simply say that they've died. He hasn't asked any further questions-until now.

I don't know if it's the age or my child's personality and inquisitiveness, but just in the past few days he's asked A LOT of questions about death. He's asked specifically WHY a certain relative died. When I said that she was sick, he said something about her "coming back". I felt the need at that moment to just say, "No, honey, when someone dies, they don't come back." He also said his cousin died, and then his friends, and that they all "came back".

I don't want to give him too much information that his little mind can't handle, but I've always strived to be as honest as possible with him. He doesn't seem scared by these conversations, just curious.

We've had so many of these EPIC parent/child moments lately. You know those moments when you can feel the weight of your words in the air, and you can feel the sweetness, love, and trust just emanating from your kid.

My question: Am I answering these questions adequately and without any unneccessary worry or anxiety?

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Sounds like your doing a great job! I was raised in afamily where death wasn't a taboo subject and my own and my family's experiences with death have all been very different than those of friends of mine who weren't raised that way. I am always so proud when I speak of how my siblings and dad and step-mom helped my brother die exactly as he wanted six years ago. It was amazing and healing and strengthening and I know none of us kids (the siblings) could have participated the way we did had our parents and grandparents not filled our house with honesty and openness about the topic.

I hope I am able to do the same for my son. He's almost five and also talking a lot about it and asking questions. We do talk about how people don't come back when they die (that's our family's belief) and that it isn't like when we act or play and one of us or one of our toys dies. Lately he's asking if you don't come back when you die what does happen and we talk about funerals and burials and cremation, but all in a very quiet way so it's not scary, if that makes sense. But also so it's not mystical or weird but just a fact of life.

We passed a church with bells ringing the other day and it was a funeral so this topic has really taken a hold of his thoughts.

I say keep doing what you're doing.
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My 3.5 yo dd is doing the same thing! Today she was playing in the playroom and making her puppets die. She likes to talk about relatives who've died and even pretend that she's dead sometimes. She likes to ask what would happen if she, ds or one of the dogs would get hit by a car. I assume it's just a phase she's in and that she's just naturally curious about it right now. I don't make it taboo either and talk about it all she wants. I wouldn't worry about it, it sounds like you're doing the right thing.
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I think it's very important to be honest but to discuss it in a way that they understand. My dd's pet mice died and she doesn't quite understand why they are not coming out of the holes that dh buried them in. I have a book called Dog Heaven. There's a Cat Heaven book, too. It tells a happy story about when a pet dies, they go to this wonderful place and they do everything a pet could do. Sometimes they miss their owners and they come back to check on them, but you can't see them. It really appeals to Abi's imagination and she seems to be applying that book to a dog that passed away when she was 12 mos. old.

Another good one is The Fall of Freddie The Leaf. That helped me through the death of my brother.
We get a lot of the same questions about death here, and we answer them in much the same way that you've described. When relatives have died of illness, we've talked about how they got so sick they're bodies stopped working-they weren't sick like we get when we have a cold or a fever, but a very different kind of sick (we wanted to be sure they didn't think any of us were going to die the next time we got a cold). We talked about how when someone dies they don't come back. As my oldest got to be 4 and 5, we talked about what happens to a person's body when they die (she asked). Also, we've asked how the kids feel when they're talking about this and asked them to tell us their thoughts-what they think about dying. In addition, I had always thought and heard that kids are sometimes concerned about who would take care of them if their parents die. So when questions about mommy and daddy dying came up or if the kids seemed worried during our talks or if it just felt right, we'd talk about how sometimes when kids think about people dying they worry about who would take care of them if we die and we'd reassure them that nana and pa and grandma and grandpa and auntie and uncle would all take good care of them.

The toughest question was "will I die?" in that scared, quivery voice with the teary eyes-it was just so hard to hear and to think about. We said yes, everyone does die sometime and that's okay. Someday I will die, someday you will die, eveyone dies sometime. It's part of life. And when we die, we go to a better place where we don't hurt and we aren't sad.

We've taken the kids to funerals and wakes also. People think we're weird when we do. (My kids are very well-behaved and not disruptive at these things.) I think doing this was so helpful, because it makes death another part of life rather than a taboo subject. They weren't scared, but they had a lot of questions.

I think it's so good to be honest with kids about death, to talk about it, to not shelter them from it.
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naking, but there is a great resource list of kids books that talks about death:


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Hi Mamas. Thanks so much for your replies and encouragement, and for sharing your ideas about discussing death with kids.

I'm relieved to know that this death-focus seems to be pretty normal for a child my age.

Nicole-Thank you. I don't want it to be weird for my son, either. I'm sure my openness about it may cause some worry on his part down the road (like perhaps he'll know words about death before other kids that don't have families that are talking about it in the same way).

doodlebugsmom-3.5 must be the magic number for confronting this stuff.

USAmma-Thanks for the book suggestions. I will check them out. That's my dilemma-I want to be completely honest with him and talk as much as he wants about it, but I don't want to give him too much info that just can't fit into that little head of his.

sledg-My DS asked me if he would die, too. I just said lovingly and matter-of-factly, Yes, everyone dies eventually.

I have a friend whose MIL died last year. Her son was 3.5 at the time and since they were not living in the same state as her and they didn't see her that much, they decided not to tell him.
I was shocked. And told her so. She said that b/c they had so many other things going on in their lives at the time (a big move, job changes, etc) they thought it would be too much for him. WTF??? It was literally like my friend starting talking another language at this point.

There's a book titled Believing It All. And in it the author talks about taking a walk with his two sons (3-ish and 1, if I remember correctly) where they came upon a dead squirrel. The dad saw the squirrel a couple yards before and at that moment he made a decision that he wasn't going to turn the stroller around or go another way, but that they were going to continue with their walk and go right by the squirrel. The boys had lots of questions, and the dad answered them all honestly. And I remember him explaining to his kids that "the thing that makes the squirrel a squirrel, the thing that makes it run and jump and play isn't there anymore". I thought that was a nice way of explaining things.

About a month ago at our local park DS saw a dead duck in the pond. He asked what it was, I told him. And occasionally now when we're at the park he asks where the dead duck is.

lisamarie-Thank you for the link.

In a way, I think that similar issues probably come up when discussing sex. IMO, you kinda have to give honest answers to your kids' questions without giving them too much that they're not ready for.
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Bearsmama, thank you so much for starting this thread. My kids (3.9 years) watched a bird fly into our garage, then try to get out by flying into the window.
And we've been very open with them regarding death, taking them to funerals and wakes and such. So I had one of those 'please God, don't let me fail' moments after I said we would toss the now dead bird in the trash and they were not only horrified, but then wondered whether or not we'd tossed our deceased relatives in the trash! My newest fear is that they (ok, I by their request) kill ants/spiders/other bugs regularly, and now think we toss pets (not like the bird was a pet, but YKWIM?) in the trash when they die, I don't want them to not value life and turn into serial killers. I've been wondering whether or not I should pursue the topic further with them. Thank you for letting me know via this thread that I am doing the right thing.
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