Talking about death to a three year old(28 Posts)
My DD (who was three at Christmas) has just started asking about death - because Snow White's mummy died (!)
I don't know what to say to her, I don't want to frighten her, or confuse her, but I don't want to mislead her.
I just told my dd that sometimes, when someone is really, really old or really, really poorly, their bodies can't work any more, and so they die. It means we can never see them again, and that makes us sad, but we can still think about them all the time and remember all the happy things about them. When she asked me where the dead people go, I told her that they go to a safe place called a cemetery, and didn't elaborate any further.
If you want to read a story book to her that deals with death in a sensitive way that young children can understand, Goodbye Mog by Judith Kerr is good.
funnily enough dd started referring to death after watching some disney film or other. i told her it meant that the person wasn't around to see anymore but that they went to heaven to be an angel - didn't want to get too heavy with her. she did take it on board though as she went to see one of mil's neighbours the other day and told me her dog had died. i asked her what it meant and she said that penny (the dog) was now a doggy angel and we couldn't see her anymore but that she was very happy. [sigh] why can't life always be that simple?
Dd(3)'s grandad died recently, and she had difficulty getting her head round the idea- poor thing thinks GD is still in the hospital. We told her that he was very old and very ill, and the doctors couldn't make him better, so he died. Chickened out of bringing up heaven etc (really couldn't explain that one to a 3 year old), so said that we put him in the ground to help the flowers grow.
Last week a thrush flew into our front window and killed itself . Dd found it, and we had a talk about it being dead. We had a little ceremony and dug a hole in the flower bed to put it in. Later that night I moved a couple of crocus bulbs to where the thrush was buried, so they should come up soon. Hope that will get the idea across.
the concept of heaven is a difficult one, i agree. i'm not actually religious at all, either, but i wanted to give dd an image of something positive and not frightening when she asked about death. i plan to explain more as we go long - that heaven is a place that means different things to different people, etc. when she's old enough to grasp it.
i personally think it's more importnant to get across the fact that the person/animal isn't around anymore that way they used to be. when my mum died i was 9 and i thought i understood about death but it took me several months to realise she was never coming back.
My 3.5 year-old asks a lot about where DH's Dad (who died when DH was a boy) or my parents' parents are. I explained that DH's dad was so sick and in pain that not even the doctors could make him better, and so he died. I say he went to heaven and that DH was sad he couldn't see him anymore but glad he wasn't still in pain. For older people dying I say that they were very old and so they died, and are in heaven now. I've also said that we will see them again in heaven. I've obviously decided to go down the heaven route, but understandably others prefer different explanations. DS has seemed fine with what I've said, but luckily for us he hasn't yet known someone who has died.
I think sometimes, even when you have explained, they cant really grasp the concept - at least i dont think my dd does. She has seen her fish die and a few mice and birds that the cats have brought in - she just asks if they are dead and makes a sad face. Once when I picked the cat up by the scruff of the neck to get her out the back door quickly dd ran up and said "Mummy she's dead!"
I think its important to give them an idea of death/heaven etc early on though.
IME kids become obsessed with death at around 3 or 4 but they don't really understand it or relate to the sad/grieving part, it's just an intellectual query. So I wouldn't be too cautious in trying to explain for fear of upsetting her.
However my DS1 (5 and 1 day) was REALLY upset a couple of months ago when he saw some footage following the Tsunami (I had forgotten to turn the TV off) of a man carrying the body of his small child through the floodwaters. He was shocked and upset to learn that sometimes children die and we discussed it for days afterwards.
His grandma died when he was 3.5, and we explained it like WWB did to her dd, which he accepted. Our cat died before Christmas and he was excited that he could did a hole in the garden to bury her. But last week one of my best friends died from cancer, someone whose wedding we (inc DS1)had attended only 16 months ago, and he was very concerned about how sad and upset I was, trying to comfort me and make me feel better, bless him.
I've been doing this with my 3 year old and he's a bit obsessed with it all now. The other day he was "listening" to my Dad's heart with his toy stethoscope and he said "You dead, Grandpa. You live at heaven now"......
Grandpa wasn't very impressed!!
But, seriously I would say that it seems to be a whole lot easier if you believe in an afterlife as that makes it possibly a bit easier to relate to. I bought a couple of books from Amazon (from reccommendations on MN)and also the Winstons Wish charity which helps children deal with bereavemnt have a good book list.
MIL's cat died last month (squished by a car). We did tell dd (3) this but also that said cat had gone to a far away place where he was having a very, very long sleep so we wouldn't be seeing him again. she seems to have taken it on board and not got herself in too much of a state about it. However, if we say 'you must hold our hands near the road because of all the cars etc.' she will then say something like 'so I not get squished by a car like (cat).' Potential minefield area really!
absolutely nikkichick, a nurse who's skilled in talking to children with terminal illnesses told me that they never talked about "going to sleep" when discussing death because it can cause children to fear going to sleep, and make them insomniac thus reducing their quality of life even further. she used much more straightforward language, far fewer similes etc than most of us would
I know Bundle, as dh was talking about a long sleep thing, I was thinking, Oh God she won't want to got to sleep now cos she'll think she won't see us again. Must be better prepared next time she brings it up and not mention the sleep thing - just about going away! Might even get the Mog book!
it's lovely nikki, a ghostly but friendly mog kinda hovers over everyone, looking out for them
Goodbye Mog a bit of a shock if you're not expecting it - looked at in bookshop and tsarted blubbing so chivkened out of buying it for kids...
i think kids much more robust than us wussy adults...
Also I wasn't sure how i could carry on reading all the other mog books which we really like once they knew mog was dead
dd1 (4.5) never asks about that. nor does she ask about why rapunzel is stuck up that b**y tower again
we got our cats from a colleague at work so i got him to bring in a photo of his cat (tikka) but when she goes to cat heaven we - ahem - won't mention it
I am a wuss, I admit it. I wish she could have killed off someone else, maybe a friend of Mog's who only appeared in one book? Or Mr Whatshisface, the slightly mean dad if the family..
aw pamina, that makes her an even more special cat (like when you're explaining adoption)
If you can bear to be subjected to it repeatedly, the Lion King has a quite simple explanation of "The circle of life" which we've fallen back on time and time again.
My brother died when my sons were 3 and 5. We told them that his body had worn out due to illness and God had taken him to Heaven.
They had trouble understanding that the body was left behind but my father told them that it was like the wrapper on a bar of chocolate - when the chocolate is all gone the wrapper is all that is left but it wasn't the important bit. They totally got it!
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