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Explaining death to a two year old

(17 Posts)
mummydreamer Fri 20-May-05 21:12:41

I have a bright, inquisitive 2 1/2 year old and I'm struggling with what to tell her about a family member who has recently died. We are a non-religious family so "going to heaven" is not something we're comfortable with and I wondered if you mumsnetters had any words of wisdom.

My daughter is quite sensitive and I don't want her to worry about those close to her suddenly leaving her, however I do feel I need to answer her questions in a child focussed way... help!

Nemo1977 Fri 20-May-05 21:15:42

Can you do it about becoming a star in the sky? Just to explain how we all move on but are never forgotten...its hard really isnt it....

mummydreamer Fri 20-May-05 21:25:41

Especially tricky given her age really. My Dad is terminally ill too - so I know that eventually I'm going to have the awful job of explaining where her grandad has gone. I see this as a macabre sort of practice run to prepare her as best I can for the loss of her grandad.

Nemo1977 Fri 20-May-05 21:26:45

I know you can get books to explain so might be worth a look on amazon or something. Sorry about your loss and your dad too ((((((((((hugs)))))))))

sobernow Fri 20-May-05 21:33:05

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

chipmonk Sat 21-May-05 09:02:35

Hi, not at all the same thing, but Connor was 2 1/2 when his beloved cat was killed by a car. We simply told him that Bickles had gone away and could not come back. He did call for him a few times in the time that followed, but we just told him the same thing. And when we talk about his brother Cameron (stillborn), we use the same sort of words "Cameron couldn't stay, but he loves us all very much". HTH, Karen

mummydreamer Sat 21-May-05 20:05:00

Thank you so much for your contributions - I'll probably use a combination of all your suggestions. I particularly like the idea of making room for new people....

Incidentally I found a booklist on another thread which will be helpful.

throckenholt Sat 21-May-05 20:12:59

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

Satine Sat 21-May-05 20:16:18

We live in the country and ds (2.8) has seen dead birds and animals occasionally. I tried to be as honest and matter of fact as I could and he seems to take it in his stride. I think it helps to be straightforward and not to use euphemisms (like going to sleep) which might be confusing.

Lonelymum Sat 21-May-05 20:17:47

There is always the "X was very tired and now s/he is having a long sleep" line. I don't know how much that would satisfy your dd.

Lonelymum Sat 21-May-05 20:19:36

My ds2 when he was 3 stunned me (we hadn't given him any religious doctrine either) by saying he didn't think it was long before dead people found a new body to live in.... I thought that was lovely and if you were a Hindu, I suppose it would fit your beliefs quite neatly.

tomps Wed 25-May-05 00:11:51

mummydreamer, good luck with this one it's difficult isn't it wanting to explain things without giving them hangups. We very sadly had to explain recently to 3 yr old that baby brother had died (stillborn) - best advice I was given was to be completely honest about it, to not hide our feelings and to include her in any 'rituals' (funeral / burial). Apparently children really can't understand concept of death until 8ish, but can understand that people are sad when somebody dies, that it's OK to feel sad and express sadness, that it's not in anyway their fault, that we have rituals to say goodbye to people because we love them and we're sad when they die. We very deliberately don't tell dd that everybody dies someday - there's plenty of time for that. And we've tried to avoid any association between sickness / going to doctors and death. Its difficult, but at this age they just need reassurance really and will ask the same question over and over just to get the same reply (took me a while to realise this). So don't worry if your dd asks again and again abour the person who's died - she'll probably be satisfied with the same response from you. Our dd still refers to herself as big sister and role plays constantly about babies - it can be upsetting but it's just about them understanding the world. Good luck and hth, x

triplets Thu 26-May-05 22:50:37

Having lost a child I have had a lot of books sent to me in the past 11 years. Do you know the only one that really gave me hope and seemed to make some sense of death was a tiny book aimed at explaining death to children. Its called Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney, do try and get it, let me know if you would like a copy and I`ll try for you.

tamum Thu 26-May-05 22:55:31

tomps, how heartbreaking. I'm so sorry.

LGJ Thu 26-May-05 22:58:44

This is it, I love it, the only bit I changed was at the end, I made sure that the child knew that the dragonfly kept coming back and hovering over the pond to make sure that they were all OK.


(A Parable of Death As A Transition To A Better Afterlife)

by Doris Stickney
Pilgrim Press, 1982 New York (ISBN - 0829806091)

Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a little colony of water bugs. They were a happy colony, living far away from the sun. For many months they were very busy, scurrying over the soft muc on the bottom of the pond. They did notice that every once in a while one of their colony seemed to lose interest in going about with its friends. Clinging to the stem of a pond lily, it gradually moved out of sight and was seen no more.

"Look!" said one of the water bugs to another. "One of our colony is climbing up the lily stalk. Where do you suppose she is going?" Up, up, up it went slowly. Even as they watched, the water bug disappeared from sight. Its friends waited and waited but it didn't return. "That's funny!" said one water bug to another. "Wasn't she happy here?" asked a second water bug. "Where do you suppose she went?" wondered a third. No one had the answer. They were greatly puzzled.

Finally one of the water bugs, a leader in the colony, gathered its friends together. "I have an idea. The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk must promise to come back and tell us where he or she went and why." "We promise," they said solemnly.

One spring day, not long after, the very water bug who had suggested the plan found himself climbing up the lily stalk. Up, up, up, he went. Before he knew what was happening, he had broken through the surface of the water, and fallen onto the broad, green pad above.

When he awoke, he looked about with surprise. He couldn't believe what he saw. A startling change had come to his old body. His movement revealed four silver wings and a long tail. Even as he struggled, he felt an impulse to move his wings. The warmth of the sun soon dried the moisture from the new body. He moved his wings again and suddenly found himself up above the water. He had become a dragonfly.

Swooping and dipping in great curves, he flew through the air. He felt exhilarated in the new atmosphere. By and by, the new dragonfly lighted happily on a lily pad to rest. Then it was that he chanced to look below to the bottom of the pond. Why, he was right above his old friends, the water bugs! There they were, scurrying about, just as he had been doing some time before. Then the dragonfly remembered the promise: "The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk will come back and tell where he or she went and why."

Without thinking, the dragonfly darted down. Suddenly he hit the surface of the water and bounced away. Now that he was a dragonfly, he could no longer go into the water. "I can't return!" he said in dismay. "At least I tried, but I can't keep my promise. Even if I could go back, not one of the water bugs would know me in my new body. I guess I'll just have to wait until they become dragonflies, too. Then they'll understand what happened to me, and where I went."

And the dragonfly winged off happily into its wonderful world of sun and air!


mummydreamer Sat 28-May-05 15:52:44

Thankyou LGJ and Tomps and everyone for your advice. I really like the waterbugs parable - seems to give some meaning and positivity to what appears to be a terrible, distressing situation. Importantly, it will hopefully not distress my already rather sensitive daughter.

csa Sat 28-May-05 16:49:27

lgj, this is a wonderful story. my sil died 18 months ago leaving a very young baby. ds (3) has asked a few times where his cousin's mummy is and i have always struggled to explain it to him. no doubt his cousin (now 2) will be asking that question very soon too. i am going to try and get that book. thanks for sharing.

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