How do you explain death to a child?
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14-11-2013, 10:46 AM
RE: How do you explain death to a child?
(14-11-2013 08:55 AM)J-Hova Wrote:  So my little boy is two and where I do not see imminent death of anyone on the horizon I can't help but to jump ahead and wonder how do you explain these things to a child. Obviously the answer would vary greatly on the age of the child and what they can comprehend but for instance if a child is say 4 or 5 and a grandparent died how would you explain where they are or what happened to them?

When my Grandma finally died of her cancer during the day while I was at school, I walked in the door to a house of a few gathered relatives. I kind of knew something was up but, I just wanted to get to the bathroom. My mom grabbed me on the way and pulled me aside.

She said, "We won't get to go see Grandma anymore because she died today. It's just something that happens to people. It is a part of life and happens to everyone."
I asked her if it would happen to me. She said, "Someday it will but only if you get hurt or become ill or when you get very, very old."
I asked her if it hurt. She said, "I don't think so. It probably helped Grandma because her cancer was so painful."
I asked her what it was like for Grandma. She said, "I don't really know, no one knows. I think it must be like going to sleep and staying asleep."

That was really the gist of what I got. I think I asked other questions along the way - about funerals and crying and sadness. I got some very simple, honest answers to my questions. It was probably the first glimpse of serious vulnerability in adults I was exposed to. I see now that adults crying all over the place must be a shocking experience for a child.

My Mom saying "It just happens" and "I don't know" may have quelled any anxieties or insecurities I may have had about the situation. I think I see it now as probably the best thing - it didn't panic me. It made me feel like I was in the same boat.

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14-11-2013, 10:53 AM
RE: How do you explain death to a child?
All these conversation, plus the fact that understanding death is one of those unfortunate experiences that we have to live through. Understanding it and dealing with it are two different things, both are a process. I love the context many posters above put it in, and that's what I do with my kids. Conversations and questions are always encouraged. Where we came from is where we go, pain ceases and their is not fear there.

Like Dom's parents, I never dumb things down. Kids learn trust through honest truth and discussion. The only thing I never completely go into detail are things that may hurt there innocence, I wait until they can cognitively handle those conversations at a more mature age.
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14-11-2013, 11:35 AM
RE: How do you explain death to a child?
(14-11-2013 10:41 AM)DLJ Wrote:  
(14-11-2013 10:06 AM)RaisdCath Wrote:  ...
more confused than comforted.
...

What comfort is needed?

I recall when I was 10 and my last grandparent died. My mother sat us down (myself and my older sister) and told us and they started crying. I picked up on their emotion but felt nothing, probably because I didn't understand the concept of death yet.

I did not need comforting.

I recall when my son (aged 4 or 5) tumbled down the stairs hurt his knee and my reaction was problem-solving i.e. rub it. He didn't fuss and just rubbed his knee and smiled.

My ex rushed in to the room at the sound of the fall. She was all corcerny and huggy. He picked up on her emotion and started to cry (a very delayed reaction).

He did not need comforting.

It depends on the amount of space taken up in their own brain by the deceased, and nothing else.

Grandpa's presence in their grandkid's life is not constant from family to family and individual to individual, so the amount of brain space he occupies is not constant. Hence the response can be just as varied as the amount of brain space occupied by gramps.

Beyond that, they will feel empathy for their family, most of them anyways.

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14-11-2013, 11:38 AM
RE: How do you explain death to a child?
Kids are incredibly resilient to this kind of things, they just understand, shrug it off and go out and keep playing. The worst case scenario is that you'll have to hug and comfort the kid if he gets sad

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14-11-2013, 11:46 AM
RE: How do you explain death to a child?
The info itself is unlikely to trigger grief. Grief gets triggered when the kid realizes gramps is not there to do the thing they always did together at a given time. If there is no such thing, there will be no grief. Grief is triggered by the absence of expected stimuli.

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14-11-2013, 01:08 PM
RE: How do you explain death to a child?
Thanks for all of your thoughtful responses. I guess there is no one answer nor any easy answer either. I try to be as real as possible with him and would hope to be able to do so when this time comes as well.
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14-11-2013, 01:23 PM
RE: How do you explain death to a child?
(14-11-2013 11:46 AM)Dom Wrote:  ". . . Grief is triggered by the absence of expected stimuli.

Uhhhh....what??

Having been under severe physical duress for an extended period of time. Another day dawned, and I was fully and dreadfully expecting a return of the physical duress. However, the reason for the pain stimulus was removed, and my physical duress stimulus was over. Then, I experienced a few very wonderful feelings.

Grief was not one of them.

"People don't go to heaven when they die; they're taken to a special room and burned!" Evil_monster
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14-11-2013, 02:09 PM
RE: How do you explain death to a child?
(14-11-2013 09:18 AM)RaisdCath Wrote:  Certainly, the many terms using "asleep" ("Grandpa simple fell asleep, but won't ever wake up") would most likely scare the child enough such that going to bed would become problematic.

I know this is true. My wife had to take a bunch of child psych classes, and she said you never compare it to sleep unless you want to scare the children from sleeping.

Similarly, I know someone who had a four-year-old girl and would have her say Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep each night, but they had to replace the "if I should die before I wake" part with something less scary, because she kept asking them if she was going to die that night.
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14-11-2013, 02:42 PM
RE: How do you explain death to a child?
(14-11-2013 01:23 PM)RaisdCath Wrote:  
(14-11-2013 11:46 AM)Dom Wrote:  ". . . Grief is triggered by the absence of expected stimuli.

Uhhhh....what??

Having been under severe physical duress for an extended period of time. Another day dawned, and I was fully and dreadfully expecting a return of the physical duress. However, the reason for the pain stimulus was removed, and my physical duress stimulus was over. Then, I experienced a few very wonderful feelings.

Grief was not one of them.

Ah, pppfffft. Smartass.

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14-11-2013, 10:44 PM
RE: How do you explain death to a child?
My father died from a brain tumor when I was 5. I hadn't even been told he was seriously ill. Didn't get to see him in the hospital. I remember vividly the last time I saw him before he went to the hospital, I had no idea what was happening. The next time I saw him he was in the casket. There's no way to describe how that felt.

Our uncle told me and my brother. My aunt immediately took us to the bedroom and started reading from a children's bible and talking about heaven. Bless her for doing what she thought was right. It didn't help.

I don't think there are any particular words or ideas that can relieve the pain in a moment like that. Holding close, talking about how much it hurts, acknowledging the tragedy of it, that you'll make it together. In other words, allowing grief to happen and grieving as a family. After the initial shock, talking about the love for the lost one, what you shared and how they'll be missed. How you'll always cherish their memory and in that way they inspire and live on through you. Honoring their memory with a life lived to its fullest. I often think of my dad when I experience things he never did.

I didn't think about my own mortality at the time, it was too distant. Despite the promises of heaven, I understood full well the finality of never seeing my dad again. It was a long, long process of grieving, and of course it never truly ends. My dad was ripped from my life for no good reason. There is no benevolent God.

This is a hard subject for the faithful and the atheists. I hope many more will share their experiences dealing with children and mortality.
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