Thursday, April 8, 2010

What is death?

Okay, this might seem like a totally gruesome topic, especially in light of Spring! :) However, it is something I've thought of for a while now.

How do you talk to your children (especially young ones) about death?

The other day I was listening to my husband play a game on the computer with my daughter on his lap. He was playing a timed version of Bejewled. She likes to watch the gems blow up. :) In any case, time was running out and he said, "I'm going to die." Hmmmm... that gave me pause. Does she know what that means?

Easter just came and went. We talked a lot about how Jesus died, but then was resurrected. Hmmmm.... is she going to think that if a loved one dies they will come back to life right away?

We smash a bug and snuff out its life and say, "the bug is dead." Hmmmm... does she really know what death is, or should she even?

We watch Bambi and they talk about his mother being dead. Hmmmm... do cartoons give a weird view of death?

We see a wilted flower on the kitchen table and I tell her the flower is dead. Hmmmm... what does she REALLY know about that?

Mostly I just wonder... do you even "talk" to your kids about death? Or do you just kind of let them pick up the nuances on their own? What do you say? In your experience what types of questions have come up? How do you deal with this? How do you talk to your child about the death of a loved one? About the death of a pet?


harmony001 said...

I think a good rule of thumb is to keep it simple. It depends on the setting: church/home/school. I think a good explanation of "dying" means our spirits go back to Heavenly Father. When we are resurrected, we get to live with Heavenly Father forever.

In a school setting where you can't give a religious answer, it's a matter of growth. Can the bug grow once it's squashed? No. Can the flower grow once it's picked? No. In biology we describe living things as things that are able to grow, reproduce, and make energy (or eat). So for small kids I teach them that if that 'something' can grow, it is alive. Grass, animals, people, etc.

Since growing big is really important to young children, they can understand why it is sad that flowers cannot keep growing and that it's best not to pick them unless Mommy/teacher says it's okay. I've never had a child ask me, "Well you aren't growing, are you dead?" They don't seem to think that far ahead yet. Once they're older they can understand a more complicated definition.

Heather said...

I didn't really touch this topic until my husband's grandparents died within a couple of weeks of each other and we attended two funerals close together. That prompted a lot of questions, of course. The nice thing was it allowed for my daughter (who was just barely three at the time) to see death as simply finishing one's life since her great-grandparents were so old. And thank you to our religious beliefs, she understood that death isn't the end of family. Going to the cemetery for the burial was so intriguing to her (it may sound gruesome, but she was fascinated that the body was in the casket going into the ground) and she kept wondering how the spirits get out of the ground and go to Heavenly Father. That allowed me to clear up some finer points on our beliefs of death and life after death.

I confess, when she plays (she's 4 now), I encourage her use phrases like "Let's trap the monster and put him in jail" or "lock him up" rather than "kill him" because I don't want her to be thinking of violence so much. (I know this will not last long, but it makes me feel better.)

She thought about death for a while after these funerals and would often bring it up and we would talk about it some more. I feel that now she has a fairly good understanding of such an abstract concept, at least for a young child. But, I definitely let her lead the conversation with her questions.

Anonymous said...

My daughter is 7 now & has an understanding of death greater than many teenagers/young adults. I always tried to mention my grandma when she was just small (my grandma passed 3 months prior to her birth). She would ask me questions about Grandma Lea & I would answer them to the best of my ability. She would go in spurts & would have 3 hr question sessions at a time. I was always intrigued that she could remember entire conversations a week later. We're just very open with our children.