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Answering meaningful questions from toddlers

(12 Posts)
notevenamousie Sun 30-Aug-09 10:00:17

My dd is 2.8. Yesterday we visited family who we see quite often, and their cat has died since we last saw them. This was a quite important trial run, as my mum, who dd is quite close to, is terminally ill. She asked where the cat was, and I tried to explain that he had died, because he was very poorly and no-one could make him better again (he was actually killed by a dog! - I see no reason to bring this kind of stuff up yet though). She was quite sad about this and was looking round their house all day to find him.

Are there better words I could have used? We've also discussed, at her instigation, what the differences are between boys and girls (I felt a bit more confident about this one but still not sure she got it, it has remained a favourite topic of conversation since.) I am trying to be honest, within reason, even if the concepts are difficult. Is that the best way? - she is my only, and I am on my own, so I have neither experience nor someone to bounce thoughts off.

spongebrainmaternitypants Sun 30-Aug-09 10:11:18

I'm so sorry to hear about your mum sad.

When my friend died, leaving a 3 yr old and a 5 yr old, we were very much advised to try and be as open and honest as possible about what was happening (she died of a brain tumour over 18 mths), and to talk of death/dying not sleeping or 'going away' because this could be extremely confusing for children.

Some of her friends/family wanted to go down the 'she's gone to heaven' route, but this was totally against my friend's wishes as an atheist, so instead we talked about her living on in our memories and our hearts and how we should never be afraid of talking about her.

Having said this, death is still a huge concept for a child so young and it certainly took her 3 yr old a long time to come to terms with the idea that he wasn't going to see mummy again. We had to field alot of repeated questions and just keep talking about it. We were also advised to be open about our emotions and not be afraid to cry infront of the kids (within reason) so they knew it was ok to be sad.

We were helped enormously by Winston's Wish.

Obviously all children are different and some will understand more quickly than others.

Best wishes.

ShowOfHands Sun 30-Aug-09 10:11:22

I don't know about the death one. We live on a farm so dd sees lots of animals fighting, some dead, squished snakes etc and is quite matter of fact about it. Our current problem is the fact that there was life before dd. She's terribly upset that she isn't in our wedding video and I can't find the words to explain that she wasn't born yet.


DD is 2.3 and when we potty trained her and incidentally visited a family who were potty training their ds, she started to become interested in anatomical difference. That was fine, quite simple. Then she became interested in SIL's pregnancy and which bit the baby would come out of. That too was fine, also understands some babies come out a different way (I have a cs scar). All fine. Then she wanted to know which bit the baby goes in and why it doesn't go inside Daddy. We explained ladies have wombs, men don't. She understands seeds growing into flowers so we said that babies grow from a seed too. She asked where the seed came from. We told her it was made by Daddy. A time later she wanted to know how the seed got into a Mummy. And on and on... Basically, she asked a question, we answered honestly and very, very simply.

Every now and then she repeats bits for clarification and then runs through the whole thing again in amazement.

My Grandma is horrified that my 2.3yr old can tell her about very basic conception and birth but I wasn't about to complicate things with storks and cabbage patches. I only ever offer information that she asks for and in the most simplistic fashion. I never volunteer information above what she seems to want.

ShowOfHands Sun 30-Aug-09 10:13:12

I remember a MNer talking about putting on a glove/puppet and explaining that we have a body (the puppet) and a soul (the hand) and the body can go away but the soul remains even if we can't see it. Something like that.

I too am very sorry to hear about your Mum.

piscesmoon Sun 30-Aug-09 10:19:15

I would just answer questions honestly as they come up. Small DCs are very interested in death-it is adults who find it difficult. I was a widow and children, especially girls, asked me questions -to the total embarrassment of their parents who would try and change the subject.

RealityIsNOTDetoxing Sun 30-Aug-09 10:29:16

Message withdrawn

FlamingoBingo Sun 30-Aug-09 10:33:08

We are totally honest with our children about all things and I think that when they're very young, things bother them far less and you are giving your DD a really good chance to have a proper understanding of life if you are honest with her from the word go.

She's going to have something really awful to deal with (as are you) in the future, and making sure she really understands that death means that you don't ever see the person who has died again, will help her to deal with it properly.

It's always harder with the first child - our younger children can't help but be part of any discussions we have with their older siblings, so they are growing up hearing these big subjects talked about around them. Unlike for our older children, for whom we kind of had to wait for opportunities or questions from them for them to be brought up IYSWIM.

notevenamousie Sun 30-Aug-09 18:13:31

Thank you for your lovely feedback. I think I did ok then, I didn't make any promises I couldn't keep. I was honest but simple. It struck me that it's the first time we've mentioned death. I have worked in a sexual-health related field for quite a few years so talking about sex doesn't really bother me, but with this I just wasn't sure of the right words to use. I guess it's one of the things that having a faith framework helps with, but I want her to make her own mind about that in her own time. I have a friend whose family are farmers and their dc do seem to have a much better grasp of this. DD knows that we eat lambs, chickens, etc, but I'vw never really explained that they are dead before. Thanks again for the very helpful thoughts.

FlamingoBingo Sun 30-Aug-09 18:45:24

Mousie, we don't have a faith in our household - DH and I aren't really sure what we believe. We're honest about that, and also about what other people believe. We say some people believe in Heaven, some in re-incarnation etc. and explain it all as requested. We try not to explain things that haven't been questioned, then we know we're doing it at their pace.

becktay Sun 30-Aug-09 18:56:29

one of the things we said to explain to our 3 year old was that the body stops working when an animal/person dies and that this usualy happens when someone is old. we too didn't like the going to sleep, heaven type answers. we too never explain things beyond what he is asking us.

IneedacleanerIamalazyslattern Sun 30-Aug-09 19:08:03

I think you did a good job of explaining it to her.
Remember that she is still young and no matter how well or how much you explain it she won't quite get the finality of death which is why she was still looking for the cat.
DD when she was younger often went on about death but it is only in the last year or so (she's 5) that she really gets the fact that it is final and people don't come back.

I'm so sorry to hear about your mum. sad

whomovedmychocolate Sun 30-Aug-09 19:16:31

Sorry about your mum.

DD is 2.10 and we've recently lost one of our cats and the other is about to die as well (they are very old).

We've explained to DD that sometimes when people or animals get very old, they die and that means they aren't around anymore, but we still think about them and as long as we remember them, they are still with us.

However, being frank can backfire. DD told my MiL (an octogenarian) 'you are old and you will die soon, but that's okay because we will remember you and might bury you in the garden so we can talk to you' hmm

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