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Old 08-31-2006, 07:28 PM   #1
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How do you explain death to a three year old?

My best friend killed herself three weeks ago. I lived with her this summer while waiting to find a house. Her son, who turned three a week after she died, and my daughter, are very close.
My daughter hasn't asked yet for her, but what do I tell her when she does? and what is a good explanation to tell her son when he wonders where his mommy is?
Thank you.

 
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Old 08-31-2006, 10:27 PM   #2
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Re: How do you explain death to a three year old?

Hi,
I would tell them that "Your Friend-Don't know her name" was very sick and when people get very sick, they go up to heaven and live with Jesus, When they live with Jesus, they are not sick any more, So when you look up at the sky, she is up there, you cannot see her but she is there. I went threw this when my Father died, My daughter was four at the time, We also made a paper candle, put it in the window, so when Grandpa looked down from heaven, He would find our house right away because he would see the candle in the window. I so sorry for you lose.
Karen

 
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Old 09-01-2006, 01:42 PM   #3
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Re: How do you explain death to a three year old?

The problem I see in the post above is one my husband pointed out to me, about what to tell my first 2 children (froma different marriage) about his limp. If you tell children bad things happen when you get sick, they may think, when they get sick "oh no, am I going to go up to heaven too?", or "oh no, am I going to walk funny too?".
Personally, I would honestly say that she died and went to heaven. My daughter's 2.5 and although she doesn't fully understand death (I don't know that most of us do), we've had fish die, seen dead animals on the road, and if she asks, we just tell her "it died". If she asks if it's sick, we tell her no, it's dead, and that sadly we won't get to see it anymore. I think basic simple honesty is the best route. I think if you give a reason for her death, be it she fell, got sick, had an accident, your daughter (and her son) may come to equate the daily risks with death.

That's just my opinion. Everyone needs to do what works for them.

 
Old 09-01-2006, 02:10 PM   #4
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Re: How do you explain death to a three year old?

We're going thru this right now with our 3-year-old after losing our beloved pet. He keeps asking where he is and he wants him back. We explained he was very very very old and he got sick and died. Someone suggested puppy heaven, but he thinks that means going on a trip and he'll come back.

 
Old 09-02-2006, 03:53 AM   #5
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Re: How do you explain death to a three year old?

I'm very sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. If it can be described as such, I would say there is one good thing about this. The child is only 3 and will no doubt deal with this much better than perhaps a child of 5+.

However, as far as what to tell your daughter and your friend's son, and further to the posts above, surely you need to take into account your friend's (and the children's) religious beliefs. It will be of no comfort to an atheist or someone of any non-Christian religion to be told that someone "has gone to heaven to live with Jesus". The child will be too young to have made up his own mind about religion so ideas should not be put in his head.

When I was at primary school, another pupil's mother died. She was told the "medical" version - that her mother's heart had stopped beating and that when that happens a person sort of falls asleep, forever, and can't be woken up. She was also told the full truth about the funeral - that her mother's body was in a "special bed" which was put into the ground, and then the animals had a tasty feast! Some people will probably think this sounds harsh, but it meant that the child was not in for any nasty surprises later in her childhood when no doubt she would have found out the truth.

I am all for people being given real, honest information, however painful it might be. The fact that people hide the truth about death from children so much explains why, as adults, so many people are terrified of it.

 
Old 09-03-2006, 10:02 AM   #6
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Re: How do you explain death to a three year old?

I would strongly recommend that no one tell a child that someone who has died has "fallen asleep".
Children can and do beccome afraid of going to sleep, of the dark, not waking up etc. because of statements comparing death to sleep.

"Die" and "death" are always preferable to "sleeping" or "gone away". It's us adults that can't handle saying the words!!

For very small children who live where there are trees whose leaves fall, or butterflies who emerge from cocoons the nature comparison can work.

Heaven or a life beyond the one this one is a wonderful concept for those who have any sort of belief system. I don't know how atheists handle this, maybe someone here has been in this situation?

 
Old 09-03-2006, 10:17 AM   #7
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Re: How do you explain death to a three year old?

I can see how the "falling asleep" idea can backfire with kids, I don't know if the child at my school was told it was a special kind of falling asleep, but it worked for her.
I can also see how the idea of heaven can be very comforting, but as you say, only for someone with a belief system. A 3-year-old is far too young to have a genuine belief system that has not been foisted on him by adults.
I am an atheist and have never had a problem with the concept of death, since an early age. The first person in my family died when I was about 4 and as far as I can recall, I was told they were dead. That was it. I understood that meant they had gone, were never coming back and I would never see them again. It may be more difficult in this particular case as the child will have to know somehow that his mother chose to leave life, as opposed to be taken away by some kind of accident. That will probably be the hardest concept to explain to him but again, I believe wholeheartedly in honesty with these things, however hard they are for the person doing the explaining, and the person hearing them.
However, I appreciate that everyone deals with death and its various aspects in completely different ways and it is down to each individual to come up with a way of handling it best for the recipient of the news.

 
Old 09-03-2006, 07:17 PM   #8
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Re: How do you explain death to a three year old?

Quote:
Originally Posted by emsr2d2
I'm very sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. If it can be described as such, I would say there is one good thing about this. The child is only 3 and will no doubt deal with this much better than perhaps a child of 5+.

However, as far as what to tell your daughter and your friend's son, and further to the posts above, surely you need to take into account your friend's (and the children's) religious beliefs. It will be of no comfort to an atheist or someone of any non-Christian religion to be told that someone "has gone to heaven to live with Jesus". The child will be too young to have made up his own mind about religion so ideas should not be put in his head.

When I was at primary school, another pupil's mother died. She was told the "medical" version - that her mother's heart had stopped beating and that when that happens a person sort of falls asleep, forever, and can't be woken up. She was also told the full truth about the funeral - that her mother's body was in a "special bed" which was put into the ground, and then the animals had a tasty feast! Some people will probably think this sounds harsh, but it meant that the child was not in for any nasty surprises later in her childhood when no doubt she would have found out the truth.

I am all for people being given real, honest information, however painful it might be. The fact that people hide the truth about death from children so much explains why, as adults, so many people are terrified of it.
Okay, I Understand you don't believe in God, Everyone has there own opinion on religion and I respect that, But the Tasty treat I must say I was shocked, Here a three year old is thinking that there Mother is being eaten by animals, to me that is very scary, frighting and horrifying for a child or even an adult. It kind of freaked me out

 
Old 09-03-2006, 09:36 PM   #9
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Re: How do you explain death to a three year old?

My husband was diagnosed as having a terminal illness at age 35. He wanted us to tell our youngest children together. They were 3 and 4. one night, my 4 year old asked me our right if his Papa was dying. We had never talked about that in formt of him. I told him that , yes he was. my huband was mada t me for telling him, but he asked and I coudnt lie. My husband told him that he was going to be with Jesus. My 4 yrold, who had always been so close to his papa, tried to step in front of a car because he wanted to go where he papa was going. That was frightening. my 3 y/o had a hard time understanding the differnce between getting sick and getting sick and not getting better. one night, the 4 yo was in the tub. He looked up at me with these huge sad eyes and said, "if God is good, why does he do these things"? He also asked if there was such a thing as reincarnation. Tough questions to amswer.

 
Old 09-03-2006, 09:36 PM   #10
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Re: How do you explain death to a three year old?

My husband was diagnosed as having a terminal illness at age 35. He wanted us to tell our youngest children together. They were 3 and 4. one night, my 4 year old asked me our right if his Papa was dying. We had never talked about that in formt of him. I told him that , yes he was. my huband was mada t me for telling him, but he asked and I coudnt lie. My husband told him that he was going to be with Jesus. My 4 yrold, who had always been so close to his papa, tried to step in front of a car because he wanted to go where he papa was going. That was frightening. my 3 y/o had a hard time understanding the differnce between getting sick and getting sick and not getting better. one night, the 4 yo was in the tub. He looked up at me with these huge sad eyes and said, "if God is good, why does he do these things"? He also asked if there was such a thing as reincarnation. Tough questions to amswer.

 
Old 09-04-2006, 05:42 AM   #11
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Re: How do you explain death to a three year old?

Without getting into a quagmire here, I think that there is an "wrongness" in the belief that "God does this". He may have set certain natural laws in order, among those is that we ALL die, but he doesn't say "Well, I guess I'll kill off a couple thousand people in an earthquake today including Timmy's Grandma".

I think children understand nature. The death of a pet, the leaves that fall to the ground, the empty cccoon. We also die and leave our body behind. For those that have a belief in God the concept of our soul, our personality, what makes us, us, well - it lives on. I think children can understand that, too.
If they understand love, and a person they love leaves the room, they still love them even though they are no longer there.

My Dad died in 2001. Who he was, and what he meant to me can never die. He is in my heart. If that isn't life after death what is? Yes, I believe in a life after death - with or without God's presence. But I don't that that is the real issue in this thread. It is more how to explain to a very young child that the body we are born with doesn't go with us when we die.

Last edited by BetsyJean; 09-04-2006 at 05:43 AM.

 
Old 09-04-2006, 05:47 PM   #12
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Re: How do you explain death to a three year old?

My mother died about 1 week after my daughter's 3rd birthday. 16 months later we lost my dad as well. She asked me on her own if my parents had gone to heaven and wanted to know where heaven was. My dad explained to her about my mom and told her that her Granny lived in th eclouds now and she doesn't hurt anymore and will see her again someday. She writes letters to my parents and somehow decided the only way to get the letters to heaven was to burn them so that has become a ritual for us. When something important happens, she writes a letter and we burn it.

Both my parents were sick and she knew it. We explained to her that their bodies stopped working right and they died. She understands its forever and she does understand that just because someone is sick doesn't mean they will die. I have fibromyalgia and she asked me to explain what it was, which thankfully I was able to explain so she understands it's not something people usually die form. She is 7 now and is way more mature than other kids her age. But she still has small breakdowns of grief but her school is aware and they have a wonderful counselor who has worked with her.

 
Old 09-05-2006, 11:14 AM   #13
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Re: How do you explain death to a three year old?

Thank you for your replies everyone. I really do appreciate it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tweiler
She is 7 now and is way more mature than other kids her age. But she still has small breakdowns of grief but her school is aware and they have a wonderful counselor who has worked with her.
My daughter is a little more advanced than other kids her age. When circumstances have come up where I am stressed more than normal, she can tell, because she begins having more temper tantrums, and argues more. for example, when she was a little over one and a half, her father (who I am not with) came to take her with him to spend some time with him. She doesn't know him, he left when I told him I was pregnant, and has not been a constant in her life. it got so that when she opened the door when he came, she immediately ran to me crying. I, of course, was crying inside as well, that I had to let him take her. And that whole two weeks, and afterward, she had severe temper problems. I am beginning to wonder if perhaps she is sensing something with this as well, although I have tried very hard to keep my grief from showing much.
Tweiler,
I hope that your daughter continues to be okay. It is good that her school cares enough to work with her on it.

 
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