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To try and explain death to my 4yr old?

(46 Posts)
Rollergirl1 Sat 13-Nov-10 23:54:45

DD is 4. PIL have a dog that is 14 and was very definitely on its last legs. Couldn't see, couldn't hear and eventually couldn't walk. PIL took to vets and they said would be kinder to let the dog go. So they had put down. I told DD about it, only in context, when she was talking about the dog and when she would see it when we went next. I explained that we wouldn't see dog the next time as dog was very old and had died and it was very sad but that's just what happens. DD was very good about it, she was obviously upset and she cried (more for grandma) but seemed quite understanding of it. Today on the phone DD spoke to Grandma and (very adultly) said she was sorry about dog. Cue Grandma talking to DH and telling him that she doesn't think we should have told DD about dog dying as it will upset her. Well it did a little bit, but she got over it. And she is okay. And it made me wonder, when should we prepare our children for death? DD already talks about my grandma, who is dead and she never knew, and says that she is just bones and doesn't have a body but she still thinks things up in heaven. It pissed me off a bit that MIL thinks I shouldn't talk to her about these things. I think it's more natural to tackle these things as they come then not to?

WhyHavePets Sat 13-Nov-10 23:57:18

You are right, your MIL is being old fashioned.

IWantToBeAFairyWhenIGrowUp Sun 14-Nov-10 00:02:11

YANBU - IMO its always better to deal with things as they arise.

My Uncle died this year, quite suddenly and my DD - 3.7 wanted to know where he was when we visited my Aunt. I didn't go into massive detail really but explained that he was very poorly (now I know this was the wrong choice of wording but that's a whole other thread), and sometimes people who are really poorly can't get better and they die. I told her he is a star in heaven now and she accepted that.

I always prefer to be honest with my DD, although try and make it more understandable for her.

PS - sorry about the dog

blueshoes Sun 14-Nov-10 00:02:55

Children are much more matter of fact about death than we give them credit for. MIL did not think it was a good idea for her grandchildren to attend their great grandfather's funeral - I respected her wishes but don't think it is a big deal.

Heaven is a comforting thought for children.

MegBusset Sun 14-Nov-10 00:03:54

YANBU, I had this conversation with DS1 (3.8) very recently (except without the heaven stuff) when talking about our old cat who'd died when he was a baby, he was curious about it but not upset. I can't see what's wrong with discussing it in a gentle way at all.

freerangeeggs Sun 14-Nov-10 00:12:18

No, you're definitely right.

My DP's niece lost her dad when she was three years old. I think it would have upset her more if we'd just said that her dad had left and wasn't coming back.

I think it's almost impossible to explain to a child, however.

Even though my DP's niece's family aren't religious in any way, she was told that Daddy was up in heaven and that he lived with angels and looked down from the stars etc. She had never heard about any of this stuff before; cue questions such as 'can I get a ladder to visit daddy in heaven?', 'do they have toilets in heaven?', and of course 'why can't daddy come down from heaven to see me?'

All that's fine if that's what you believe and you can explain it in the context of a belief system (although a minister did advise against all the angels/stars stuff at the time). However, she took it all literally and now thinks a bunch of people live in the sky and fly about and need to eat, drink, wee and so on.

Still, I don't know how I would have done it better. There's a Sesame Street book for bereaved children which is really lovely - it's available online.

MsHighwater Sun 14-Nov-10 00:47:27

My dd was 3.6 when a good friend of ours died. She knew him and we had to leave her with my parents so that we could go to the funeral so there was no question of our doing anything but telling her the truth (pitched to be age-appropriate). We told her that he was very ill (he had cancer) but that he was too ill for the doctors to be able to make him better and he died. We also explained that his wife was very sad (as were we) and that she missed him very much. Dd asked a few questions that were obviously about her trying to understand what it meant. Since then, she has been fine, quite matter-of-fact about it. She remembers him though I think that, by now, she remembers him for having died more than she remembers him alive.

I can't imaginen how we would have dealt with the situation while avoiding the subject of death. She remembered him and would have surely asked about him at some point. I wasn't sure how she would react and I'm relieved that she dealt with it OK but I feel sure that avoiding the issue would only have risked more upset than telling her might have caused.

strandedatseasonsgreetings Sun 14-Nov-10 00:53:38

Ah yes the death question. Actually I think 4 is a natural age for them to start asking questions - usually by then they will have known either a person or an animal who has died and will want to know what happens. I wish I believed something did happen after death as it would be an awful lot easier to tell them about heaven etc but I can't do that. Instead I have used the slightly tedious "some people believe" when she has asked me what heaven is in relation to the song "This old man".

We also used to pass a graveyard every day on the school run and dd1 (then 4) became very obsessed with it. At one point she asked to go there for her birthday outing.

Anyway no YANBU.

Mowiol Sun 14-Nov-10 01:25:16

I reckon children today are protected from death - whyhavepets says your MIL is being old-fashioned. bUt I think (depending on how old your MIL is) that this is a new thing to shield children from death. It is most definitely "new-fashioned" to think death is taboo.

I think YANBU to have discussed this.

My parent's (who are in their late 70's) generation grew up with bodies being "on show" in the house until the burial.

So in "old-fashoined" days death was absolutely part of day to day existence and so many children died young that most people in their 70-90's would have direct experience of this.

mjinhiding Sun 14-Nov-10 01:37:36

Message withdrawn

MadamDeathstare Sun 14-Nov-10 02:45:58

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

libelulle Sun 14-Nov-10 06:02:29

I actually saw my granny laid out when I was 4 (French catholic family- she was 'on display' for a week or so so friends and family could come to pay respects). I remember my mum thinking I was too young but my dad persuaded her. To be honest I was fascinated. It's a very strong but not at all negative memory for me now, 30 years later. I think being open and concrete about death for a child of that age is natural and right, far better to satisfy their curiosity than give them the impression that sad things are best not talked about, or leave them to draw their own mistaken conclusions.

AlpinePony Sun 14-Nov-10 09:03:24

Friend is "helper" on school bus for 4 year olds. Apparently they brought the subject up themselves and there was a lot of discussion - NONE were upset by it. She warned the parents what was going on so they knew. Apparently it continued for a few days - and every time someone was absent there was a chorus of "oh he/she's probably dead". grin

piscesmoon Sun 14-Nov-10 09:17:07

DCs are not upset about it and they want facts-especially girls aged about 4-6yrs. It is adults who find it difficult. When I was a widow DCs would question me and their parents squirmed with embarrassment and tried (in vain) to change the subject.
Death is part of life. An old dog is a good way to get into it.

kerstina Sun 14-Nov-10 09:48:35

My eight year old DS came downstairs on halloween night after i had put him to bed, he was crying his eyes out. It took me over half an hour to coax out what was wrong in the end he whispered he did not want to die.
This was not the first time i think he was probably in reception the first time he got really upset.
I have found this the hardest thing to explain as its hard enough for adults to accept. I wanted to comfort him as much as possible so we did talk about how some people believe we go to heaven and are reunited, also about memories living on in the people who love us and we have part of them inside us. I said we need to watch the lion king again. I spent a long time trying to settle him and he has seemed ok since but i do worry he is going to be very sensitive in future i hope i handled it ok.

pongonperdy Sun 14-Nov-10 09:51:27

I remember my daughter asking what head stones were when we were at a friends christening. I was trying to wrack my brains to think of what to say. My mum piped up with " they are to mark the place were someone who has died is buried" . I expected my daughter to be horrified but she said " that's a good idea then we will remember where they are"

I think kids of that age just accept things more easily then we give them credit.

Porcelain Sun 14-Nov-10 10:07:49

I think the later you leave it, the harder it will be for them. They have to find out eventually and 4 year olds seem to take it better than older children. This is what goldfish and hamsters are for wink

WriterofDreams Sun 14-Nov-10 10:27:12

I agree with Mowiol that protecting children from death is a new thing. When my gran and mum were young a person who died would stay in the house and generally be prepared by a couple of adults in the family (Irish Catholic). The person would then be laid out for the wake in the house and people would look at the body and touch it if they wanted to. When my sister's friend died quite young we all went down to the house. She was laid out on the bed and a stream of people went up to say goodbye and sit with her to say a prayer. A lot of people would kiss a child too. Funerals are big affairs so children tend to go to a lot of them even at a young age. I am always baffled how people say that not going to a funeral can make someone feel better - surely being excluded from the final ritual of someone's life is going to make you feel worse not better?

Nowadays, even in Ireland, there's a tendency to sanitise death which I think leaves people feeling detached from the whole thing. People are often now sent to funeral homes where they're professionally prepared and laid out. People still go to see the body but wakes tend to happen without the body and the process is more formal.

I think the best policy is never to lie to children. There's no need to tell them all the gory details if that's not what they're looking for but making things up or worse keeping things from them really isn't going to make them feel better. They'll either know they're being lied to and feel left out and rejected or they'll believe the rubbish and be confused when the word of a trusted adult is challenged later on. Either way, not a good outcome.

sfxmum Sun 14-Nov-10 10:33:43

to OP

dd has been asking questions about death for just over a year, she is 5 now, we have always been honest with her
she knows my mother dies a long time ago, she is slowly getting to grips with the concept, at first she thought only very old people died like they told her at school, then she heard the news and understood that war gets people killed as do accidents
she also asks if grampa and great aunty will die soon, they are the eldest in the family

to be honest sometimes it can be a bit unnerving, occasionally they she gets quite full on but it is part of growing up ant imo it is best to just answer simply and truthfully

sfxmum Sun 14-Nov-10 10:36:17

just don't tell them that old people get very tired and go to sleep and never wake up hmm we had to correct this, told to her by foolish person, that one earned a couple of 'no mummy I don't want to go to sleep in case I don't wake up and die'

hairytriangle Sun 14-Nov-10 10:36:30

YANBU. I think you've handled this sensitively, as it came up, and on a need to know basis. Your little girl sounds adorable.

WriterofDreams Sun 14-Nov-10 10:39:58

Exactly sfxmum it's this kind of silly lying that really gets on my nerves. Some people don't realise how damaging it a can be to children when you lie as it can really mess with their heads. Never associate sleep with dying, it's a surefire way to have sleepless nights for years to come!

fruitstick Sun 14-Nov-10 10:42:05

Both of my parents are dead. Ds1 is 4 and I have always been very honest about death and what it means.

It is not upsetting to a child. They take in what they are capable of processing and edit out the rest.

You have done the right thing.

Doigthebountyeater Sun 14-Nov-10 10:48:37

There is a good book in the Mog series (by Judith Kerr) where Mog dies because she is too old but she hovers around the family and looks after their new kitten. It is very blubsome but also very uplifting about death and why it happens. it might be useful in the circumstances.

fruitstick Sun 14-Nov-10 11:41:07

Ooh. Alfie and the birthday surprise is about a cat that dies too.

It's lovely.

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