Topic "death" and children
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26-05-2012, 04:39 PM (This post was last modified: 27-05-2012 03:24 AM by Leela.)
Topic "death" and children
I am writing this wall of text because I think it contains some important points on the topic death and children (NOT death of children, just to make that clear).

This first post is split in:
1. My own first thoughts on death when I was a child
2. How children understand death
3. How children react to death (of friends, family members, strangers, animals, plants)
4. Let's call her Lisa
5. How to help children understand death better and deal with it
6. Purpose of this all (yes that's in the end > on purpose)
=======================================================================

1. My own first thoughts on death when I was a child
The very first time I "got in touch" with death was when I was 7 or 8 years old and my grandparent's dog died. Noone explained to me what that really means. They burried him in the yard and that was the end of story. I did not understand why he is burried there, I did not understand what is happening with him next. They just told me that he is dead. His name was Racky.
Shortly after that the whole catholic brainwaching started. That you go to heaven or to hell depending on how your life goes and so on. I didn't buy the heaven and hell story, it was not logical, but it got me thinking. Finally I understood that at some point my mother will not be there anymmore. She was the only person I could at least kind of rely on and I was scared s***less that she might die. I remember that one evening I thought about that and I just started crying and went to her and told her that I don't want her to die. She smiled at me and told me that she is not going to die any time soon. I stopped crying for the moment but I was still really scared and only a few days later I actually thought about my own death. What would it be like? When would I die. What happens when I am dead? etc etc.
So another evening came and Leela was crying again and telling her mom that she doesn't want to die. At that point my mother didn't smile or laugh anymore. She engaged into a pretty mature conversation about death with me. I am not going into detail about that for now, the outcome was that I imagined death like sleeping forever but still recognizing what's around me. I imagined it to be like sleeping and not being able to open my eyes or do anything.
Around this time, around 9 years old, I also had my two near death things where I nearly drowned. So after all the thinking, at least I was not scared of the process of dying anymore.
When I was twelve my grand grandmother died. In church my grandmother cried and I felt sad. More about the fact that my grandmother cried than about the actual death. At the graveyard many people cried, I did not. I loved my grand grand mother but I didn't understand why to cry. I understood that she would not come back, I understood what death is, and I was sad that she was gone, I even had a bad consious for a long time because I was mean to her once when she was in her final altzheimer phases, and never said sorry about it. So I had my weird emotional mix as well, but still no tears at all. Also at the wake I found weird that suddenly those who cried a moment ago where laughing and talking happy things and everyone was eating together. I found this behaviour sickening and couldn't really eat.
So these where my first experiences with death.

2. How children understand death.
Young children/toddlers/until being educated about the topid, do not understand the concept of death, the default position is that they do not know what death is. If a death occurs it is not "death" with the emotional connection that we, as grown ups, have.
What's a dead bird on the street for a child of this age? It is a bird. The bird is not moving. The bird is not singing. The bird is not on the tree. The bird is not in the air. The bird doesn't breath. When I touch it or move it, it doesn't react.
And that's all there is to it until we teach a child what happened to the bird and give this state a name. "The bird is dead."
The learning process starts then.
Now it understands that the bird will not wake up and fly away again, that maybe the bird left a little bird family behind. This is some early emotional process going on. It will also start making connections about biological things that need to happen to be alive like breathing and a beating heart.
From that point it won't take long or be difficult to make the connection to humans. All of this depends on the education provided by the care givers, of course.

3. How children react to death
It depends of course. For example when I was 6, my best friend's mother died from cancer, and he seemed normal after the service. I liked his mom but for me it was not a big deal as his dad was left. Notice the seemingly cold feeling towards the actual dead person. But I understood that HE was really sad so I was very careful and loving with him.
Usually young children seem either cold or curios when it comes to the topic death. And that's normal. They are like that towards everything. Most of the time they will be curios about everything, including death. So if death is encountered they want to know all the what's and why's and how's... And based on the knowledge they gain like that, they get an understanding and finally make emotional connections like "when my dog dies, he will never come back because death is something final" So once this understood it will start reacting to death like everyone does, sad.

4. Let's call her Lisa
When I worked at a daycare center with kids at the ages 2-6 we had one girl, let's call her Lisa, who came back from hospital one day. She left for hospital before I joined the place, and at this point I had been there for months already. My boss told me that Lisa beat cancer and that we have to keep an eye on her because she is still a little weak and a little fragile and so on. She made us aware that we really had to take care of her but to do this without treating her obviously different. No swarming around her, no babytalk, no extra rules, no extra rights.
So Lisa came, and she had hair back on her head already, and she was a very very loving and kind child. She was smiling all the time and never got in trouble. She never fought with anyone. She was our little sunshine and even everyone of the children loved her. When she came she got her really big "welcome back" from everyone and she would never sit alone or play alone. She always had someone around. Just very rarely she would just have to lay down for a little, but that was so rare that no child really noticed anything special about it, everyone liked to lay down every now and then, that she had a different reason than just being comfortable for a minute, didn't matter. There was no bullying or anything.

5. How to help children understand death better and deal with it
Back in college we got an assignment once. The assignment was to engage a conversation about death with a child at the place where we had the internship. What I handed in was pretty much three lines long. A child game to me with a dead, dried out worm and asked me what this is, I told him that it is a dead worm. That was the conversation and my assignment was done.
I don't like the practice of just coming up with anything and just talk about whatever it is out of nothing. There needs to be a connection to the situation the child is in, to engage a conversation.
Therefore don't recommend to start a talk about this topic out of the blue. Better use a situation where it comes naturally. Draw attention to things around you. It doesn't have to be only about humans or the child will learn that only humans die. This is called situation oriented working, at least if I translate it literally from German.
Examples:
>> A walk in the park and you see a sqeezed, dead slug. "Oh look, someone stepped on the slug, it's dead now!"
>> In the garden a dried out, dead flower "Oh look, this flower didn't get enough water and now it's dead!"
Always include some reason in why something is dead and be prepared that you might have to answer further questions. Why does the slug die when someone steps on it, why does the flower die without water....
That's important so the child is able to make connections later and not ask you on every living or dead thing.

6. Purpose of this all (yes, at the end)
I feel that children are mostly left out of discussion here. They are mentioned every now and then in this forum but on the most important topics there is nothing about children.
Death is a major topic, it can happen to everyone at any time, so it is important that your child does know about death early. Not only to simply know but to be careful in dangerous situations and to not hurt anyone mindlessly about it, like saying something stupid when the friends mother dies etc.
So I wanted this thread for a little insight in the topic and maybe to collect more information on it.
If you know more about the topic than I do, please don't hesitate to add things or debunk others that might be wrong in my post. I did study a lot of it at college or experienced it at work or at home but that does not make me a specialist.

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26-05-2012, 05:35 PM
RE: Topic "death" and children
Quote: (NOT death of children,
just to make that clear).
:(Thanks for the warning, Leela. This is where I stopped reading. Sad

"All that is necessary for the triumph of Calvinism is that good Atheists do nothing." ~Eric Oh My
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26-05-2012, 06:23 PM
RE: Topic "death" and children
Boy, reading that just made me sit here and space out for 20 minutes.

My dad's family lived on the opposite side of the country and I didn't see anything of them except for his one brother - he stopped by to visit a few times. I liked him better than any of mom's family, he would actually take time to spend just with me, and play, and talk to me like I was an adult. I was 3 and 4 years old, and I remember him like it was yesterday. The reason he stuck so much in my mind was that he died shortly thereafter, he was only 30 or so. So off we went on a road trip across the country for the funeral. But I was excluded from that, all the young children spent the day at an aunt's house. I didn't understand, it was the first time I was left with strangers for a long time. I don't remember a whole lot about all this, just that his wife was crying a lot...and that someone had a huge swimming pool...and that my uncle never came to play and talk again. I would ask about him later, and be told that he was dead and would not come back and I don't remember the rest of the conversation.

2 years later I finally got to have the puppy I had always wanted, and it had parvo and died after just one month. I actually don't remember being very distraught, but I must have been because mom talked to my teacher. Then the teacher sent me on an errand delivering a note. When I got back to class, everyone stared at me and at recess all the kids stood around me and were super nice and sweet. I realized that I was special because my puppy died, but I didn't know why that was so.

Then one of my classmate's mom died. I don't know how it came to be, but I saw her in her coffin. Never saw her before and didn't like what I saw. I was invited to the funeral and there were about 5 kids and they sat at a seperate table at the wake. We laughed about something and then I got up and found her dad and asked him if we were allowed to laugh. He said yes, of course, that was why he invited us. So I related that to how the kids in school acted when my puppy died and went and cheered the table and my motherless friend up. I made silly jokes and all the girls were laughing...

I don't remember any specific time when I realized what death was. I may have come to peace with it back when I was 4 and my uncle died, I don't remember. It just never seemed anything but normal to me. It just happened and you never knew where or why or when. It made people sad and they needed cheering up.

It seems strange for a kid who wrestled with "what is the purpose of life" at age 8, to not be contemplating death at length, but I just didn't. Whatever mom and dad told me at age 4 must have resolved the thing for me. Wish I could ask them what that was - but they are dead.

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26-05-2012, 11:05 PM
RE: Topic "death" and children
Wow, my view of death started at about 8 when I saw a picture of one of my family's former dogs. I asked where he was and, my dad showed me where Spike(The dogs name) was buried. Then I realized that that he was np longer with us and promptly returned to playing PS1.

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26-05-2012, 11:43 PM
RE: Topic "death" and children
My first 'death' encounter was when my mum died when I was 10. I really had no idea what it even was and what had really happened. I think my father shielded my brother and myself from most of the experience.
It was only when I hit puberty that I realised the implications of my mother dying. I cried when I first menstruated as my mum had left a note on what to do (which my father gave me) but at this stage I thought she was in heaven. It wasn't until my later teens that I started thinking she was probably in an eternal state of rest/sleep.
My father died when I was 33 and this had huge ramifications as he had been my 'mother' and father for many years.

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27-05-2012, 12:20 AM
RE: Topic "death" and children
My first experiences had to do with life support. I would go to my mom's mother's room in a hospital now and then, to meet a woman who never remembered me. Everyone would be really upset except the woman, she was usually happy. When we stopped going to the hospital everyone was happy and expressing that she's finally dead and able to relax. So I learned that death is a good thing. Animal deaths have always hit me pretty hard due to the closeness, but when they just disappeared was always worse. Death is not so bad, but missing could mean anything. When I had to deal with other funerals I would often get in trouble for the fact that I saw it as a good thing. Sometimes I was insensitive, and often just absent minded about things.

I still hold the same view of death as I originally had, that there's a lot you no longer have to deal with when you die. It really isn't a horrible way to view death, but if you want a kid to feel that way you'll need to find an answer for funerals. I find that th average person puts too much weight on death. I've yet to meet anyone who wanted their death to impact people more than their life. I can understand why people are hurt so badly and I can empathize, but it always seems a bit silly to me that they gather together to cry. It just seems counterproductive to help eachotherbe upset when you could be cheering eachother up.

I've also always found mourning to be a very personal and private thing, so yeah sometimes I get a bit bothered by the overly talkative mourners. It just seems like the worst thing to shout out to others. No one can relate to your experience with that person. They know their own, and that's as much as they have. They can give you information on how to handle death in general. But the person you knew is different than the one for everyone else, and in remembering them you've only got yourself most of the time.

Death is something I definitely think kids should be helped to not fear. The worst incidents are when a death in the family happens and those around the kid just yell that the person is dead in answer to any questions. There are so many problems that stem from a fear of death, which is extremely irrational as it is going to happen. Death is an important part of life, but there's more than that, don't spend your life contemplating death and please don't try and find a way out of it. Mor people are led to do horrible things in the hope of escaping death than anything else.

I'm not a non believer, I believe in the possibility of anything. I just don't let the actuality of something be determined by a 3rd party.
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27-05-2012, 02:30 PM
RE: Topic "death" and children
At the age of 3 or 4 I was close to death, due to lack of will to live... I remember terrible moods in the morning, that I don't know why I'm here, for what purpose, why to live, and so on. It ended up in eating almost nothing, resulting in life-threatening anemia and malnourishment. But it got better with doctors' attention and iron drops. (You'd be surprised how easily the anemia can be overlooked by doctors, parents, caretakers, everyone)

As a kid I also attended the sunday school, though I'm unbaptisted. Local Evangelicals don't care about details. So one day, I guess I was about 7 years old, I went out of the sunday school and my dad said he found a white hair on my head. I thought white hair mean that someone's old and will die soon. So I got all afraid that I'm gonna die and I didn't want to die. Dad calmed me down, I don't remember how exactly, only that I understood it's going to take a very long time until that happens.

Around that time I also believed in hell and heaven. It all got better soon, when I had read up on some more philosophies, like books on reincarnation, my parents had quite a few of them. Made lots of sense to me. Later I never really cried or was sad on various funerals of (great) grandmothers or grandfathers that are common in any family. Including any animals, dogs or cats, I felt nothing. Anyway, from my whole family only grandma cried at funerals.

Now I think that death of truly dear people probably hurts less than a death of relationship with them. Death of a person is quick, clean and simple, but death of a relationship can be in some cases very messy. A piece of us dies also, our illusions about them.

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