Lately, my son has had many questions regarding death, which is normal for his age. Here is a conversation we had the other day.
Mom: No, I will be alive. I’m an adult and my mom is alive.
Max: How about when I’m Dad’s age?
Mom: I will be alive for a long time.
Max: When will you die?
Mom: When God calls me to heaven, which will be a long time from now.
(he walks away and hides in the hallway)
Max (in his deepest voice): Jill, this is God. Get to heaven RIGHT NOW! (peals of laughter)
We both got a good laugh over that. Max is a character, to say the least, and I enjoy talking to him, even about uncomfortable topics. I want him to always feel like he can talk with me.
Talking to Children about Death
1. The topic will come up repeatedly and this is normal (whether someone has died or not). Have patience and answer your child’s questions.
2. Give short/simple answers. Young children cannot handle big explanations yet. Discuss what happens to a person’s body when they die (His body has stopped working. He no longer eats or sleeps. He does not go to work anymore or do any of the things we do.)
3. Watch your wording! “Uncle Tim has gone away” might scare your child. What happens the next time you need to “go away” on a business trip? “Uncle Time is sleeping” will cause sleep issues for you and your child. Make sure if you tell your child that someone was sick and died, that you explain that they will not die when they have a cold.
4. Depending your religious beliefs you may talk about God, but watch your wording. “Uncle Tim was a good man so God called him to heaven” might make your child think they should start being bad to stay with you. Remember, it is ok to say that you do not know. My son asks me all the time to describe heaven and I tell him I do not know (I have not been there).
5. Make sure your child understands that is ok to cry when someone dies. You can grieve in front of your child, but please make sure you do it in a way that is not scary for them. Also, children express their emotions over a death in many ways: anger, sadness, laughter. They might blame themselves, so communicating is so important (even if you are having the same conversations over and over).
Have you and your child had to deal with a death? How did you handle it?
- 12 Tips for Talking to Children About Death (blogher.com)
- Real World Questions From a Four Year Old (rlmurphy1.wordpress.com)
- Heaven is for real : a little boy’s astounding story of his trip to heaven and back (gcbooks.wordpress.com)