Thursday, March 15, 2012

Talking to Children About Death

Well this isn't a topic I thought I would be discussing with my kids just yet. Or at least I was hoping it would take longer for it to come up. The other night, after putting all of the kids to bed, I was sitting on the couch with  my laptop (of course) and I heard a noise coming from upstairs. I walked over to the bottom of the stairs and looked up to see our seven year old standing there and looking quite upset.

"Mommy, I'm laying in bed and I can't stop thinking about when I get older I am going to die." {starts crying}

Say what? Where the heck did THAT come from? I was totally blind sided by this. I quickly made my way up the stairs to give him a hug. When I asked what made him think about it, wondering if a classmate had mentioned someone dying to him, he just said "my brain." I had no idea what to say. Not a clue. I wasn't prepared for this conversation. So I just continued to hold him and told him it was OK and not to think about it. I brought him back to his room and turned on his radio so he could fall asleep to some music. He was out shortly after.

Photo credit: prahlj from

No I did not handle it all that well. But I really had no clue what to say. I didn't want to lie and say he won't die but I didn't want to say yes you will die someday either, because that just seems way to harsh for a 7 year old. I needed to find a happy medium of the two that would calm his fears.

The next night while my husband was reading a book to him at bedtime, he brought it up again. Thankfully, my husband was much better at handling this. Daddy told him how his own grandmother lived to be 95 and that some people even live to be 100. And since he is only 7, 95 and 100 are a long time away. This really seemed to connect with him and he calmed down. Then the following conversation took place, which is both comical and well a little painful for me.

W: "But daddy, what about mommy?"
Daddy: "What do you mean, what about mommy?"
W: "Well mommy's hair is turning white."
D: "It.s OK. Mommy's had white hairs for a long time."

Nice. Really nice. So I guess my seven year old has noticed the increase in white (I prefer grey thank you very much) hairs on my head. And yes, I got my first one when I was 16. I thought they were fairly well hidden as they are mostly in my temple area and underneath a layer of brown hair. But I guess its more obvious than I thought. I'm not ready to dye my hair just yet though.

Have you had to talk to your children about death yet? How old were they and what approach did you take? I need to be better prepared for the next time he brings it up.


  1. Death is something that we talk about here quite often, to be honest. Not sure if it's because we're Christians, or if I've never hidden it from the kids (mine are 4 1/2 and 3). Bugs die, plants die, we talk about where meat comes from - and an animal has to die so we can eat meat.

    We are also Christians, so that might make our conversations about death easier - we believe when we die, we'll go to heaven. So when my son is worried about me dying, we talk about that he'll be grown up with children and it will be okay, and that we'll see each other again.

    It's a part of life - a sad part of life - but a normal part of life.

    1. Same for us. While dying isn't a fun part of life I think it's easier for my kids to accept because they know Heaven is better than Earth. I too have always been very honest my children as well, but other than talking about Heaven I don't think they have ever feared death. I'm sure it will come with time or if someone they love passes. Then it will be more real to them.

      Wonder what got him thinking about it...

  2. Yeah sorry this started out totally serious but I lost it at the white hair question. I can't stop laughing.

  3. Well see now we do talk about bugs dying and plants dying, I just wasn't prepared for him to start worrying about when he is going to die.

  4. Death is s tough subject. The white hair part was cute.

  5. Poor Baby!!! My son is 9 and we have talked to him about death. Mostly because in the past 3 years 3 of his great grandparents have passed away. So we figured it was time to explain everything to him. He was ok with it and really hasn't brought it up that much. I think kids are afraid of the unknown and I feel that if they are age appropriate and you talk to them about it on their level then they'll be ok.

  6. My daughter is 5 and she did the same thing to me not long ago.What can you say to them really? No matter what you tell them,they still worry.I just said something similar to your husband.There have been a few of these days and I just try to calm her and tell her how young and healthy she is.One day I know she will realize being young and healthy doesn't mean she can't die,but I will have to deal with that day when it gets here.I have a hard enough time not losing it myself at the thought of something happening to one of them.

  7. Unfortunately my daughter had to deal with death at the tender age of 4. I was basically Hospice care for my father when he was very ill in early 2007, Thanksgiving of that year he passed away. We we're living with my parents and my grandmother so the plus is she got to spend so much time with him, the negative is that she watched his health decline. That part was hard to deal with since everyone always just said he was "sick" so she was worried when someone got a cold but that didn't last long and we explained best we could between being sick and being terminally ill. She knew Papa was in Heaven and that she always had him to watch over her and protect her (though that too can creep some kids out). Though honestly I don't think she fully got it because he was cremated, therefore no funeral for last goodbyes just a gathering of family.
    In February 2008 the remaining family had to split up due to cost and whatnot so we moved and I took my dog Lucy that I had owned since I was 11, less than a month went by and she died of old age at 14. My daughter wanted to see the body and some may not agree with me but I did let her since Lucy just looked like she was sleeping. (Though I would never tell a kid anything that is dead is sleeping, that opens up a Pandora's box that might be hard to close) We did bury her in the backyard, again some may not agree but that's what we do. So she got to say goodbye, we made her a cross to mark the spot, and see it...finished for lack of a better word. About a month after that my turtle Mr. Roshi I had owned for 6+ years died unexpectedly so we had to go though that too (this Mama was so broken at that point, everything I loved was leaving me) I think that helped her understand even more...

    1. Just recently this year her G.G. (great grandmother) whom we also lived with prior to 2008 became very sick and passed away, this time it was an open casket funeral. I couldn't do it, couldn't see her that way but did give my daughter who is now 8 the option of saying goodbye, again people may not agree but it was our choice as parents. She did want to and was very brave and strong so I think I made the right decision.
      Death and life, life and death...all go hand in hand. We want to shield our children from all the bad in the world but we can't, especially something that will happen one day and can't be avoided. Personally I don't think it should be hidden or skirted around mainly because if they have no clue about it (i.e. with the animals, plants, etc) it could actually be more traumatizing when it does happen because they will have no idea.
      Since tone and expression can't be read well really I just want to add that whats being said I expect to be taken with a gain of salt and is just my personal opinion and in no way saying how people should treat this subject since it is a sensitive one and every kid's emotional and metal understanding should be taken into consideration...I know you were put in a different situation since he was only asking about it and didn't have to deal with it head on. With that being said I know he is still young but honestly you might want to watch the "you only die when you're old" angle. For now I understand since he just brought it up but it could backfire later and cause more confusion if he finds out that children can get say cancer or other illnesses and die, could possibly feel lied to about death. Though not at all saying sit him down and tell him kids can die too. I think it's a very hard subject. Clearly he is a smart boy though and I think one way of dealing with it is to make sure he can always talk to you and your husband about how he is feeling and what he is thinking as far as death, if it's questions or worries. You could always see if he has questions and go from there with information, adding to it when he ask instead of just giving out the information. If that makes since. Kind of like most parents do when it comes to anything to do with the sex and body issues; go off of what the kid already knows, answer as honest as you can and always be there to talk.
      Goodness me I rambled on (I've never had to chop my comment in half to fit haha!) it's just something I've had to deal with so it's close to my heart. Maybe something written will help, maybe not but thanks for letting me share and also for you sharing.

  8. It is so hard with young kids and death. I remember my grandma dying when I was around 10. It was hard for my parents to talk about. I remember reading a lot of books with them at the time.

  9. Yes, we've talked about death. My oldest doesn't quite get it as he doesn't understand the thing that makes you alive. He thinks the person is still there, trapped inside. It is had to understand and to explain what really happens.

  10. I actually used to do this a lot when I was younger. I was just preoccupied with death and even the question of why we even exist. Like, what's our purpose. I remember being in elementary school so I was very young. I never told my parents though so I think you both did the right thing by talking to him.


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