Opinion · Parenting · Personal

When Did Your Kids Become Aware of Death?

I’ve had this post in my head for a while but have been finding it hard to find the right words. Sausage, just recently, has been talking about dying. During her games with her dollies, she’ll talk about them dying from one illness or another (mostly due to starvation, if I remember rightly…) and she starts random conversations about people passing away.

When my step mum died last year, I thought I did a really good job of hiding my grief, but looking back I know I failed. She saw me crying, utterly bereft, in denial, angry – the full set of emotions that goes with losing a loved one. Maybe this has contributed to her sudden awareness of mortality.

Then there’s Disney.

I wrote this post not long after I started my blog, but due to that wonderful parental pressure that kids know how to exert, Sausage now watches a small selection of Disney films, with Lilo and Stitch being her absolute fave. In fact, there are FOUR Lilo and Stitch films and a TV series, all of which she now has. In Lilo and Stitch 2 (for those of you who haven’t seen it…) Stitch’s batteries run out at the end and everyone thinks he’s dead. Sausage fixates on this part of the film and even though he comes back to life, often says repeatedly “Stitch is dead, isn’t he Mummy?”.

I always said that I wanted to protect Sausage’s innocence as much as I possibly could, but there comes a time in a child’s life when they start to ask questions.

“Daddy, why don’t you have your cat Mitzy anymore?”

“Mummy, why don’t we see Lorraine anymore?”

She also became aware of the concept after seeing charity adverts on television. She asked her Daddy why the little girl in the Water Aid advert looked so sad and Husband explained that she and lots of other kids didn’t have any clean water to drink, to which Sausage responded that she wanted to give her Christmas money to the little girl to help her. Husband made a donation on Sausage’s behalf (though not out of her Christmas money) and he and I were bursting with pride at our child’s kindness.

And how do we answer those questions without touching on the subject of death? To an extent I feel like I’ve failed her, should have given her a more imaginative answer and skirted around the issue, but at the same time, I don’t condone lying to kids when the truth will do. I think I just have to come to terms with the fact that she’s a bright kid and it was time for her to learn certain facts of life. She’s only three and a half, though. Seems horribly young.

Do you know when your kids became aware of death and dying? Did they hear about it from you and how did you handle the subject?

11 thoughts on “When Did Your Kids Become Aware of Death?

    1. Well I can kind of see why it caused controversy but to the parents credit, they did say to the kid that the squirrel should be treated with respect and then buried. My main thought was about the hygiene aspect of hugging a dead squirrel, but people eat squirrel and prepare them as food, so I don’t get what the big deal is!

  1. I want everyone to learn from my mistake, heres the story my daughters guinea pig died while she was at school my daughter was 7 at the time.

    She came home and of course asked where peanut the guinea pig was first thing out of my mouth was he is at the vets ( bright idea to break it to her gently thought start vets the sadly peanut was ill

    A few hours of upset or months or even years of questions which I’m still getting now!! Death is a harsh reality of life which we can’t protect our children from no matter how much we try!

    1. Oh bless her heart! You had the right intentions there but I think your execution might need some work next time! I’m sure she’ll forgive you…in time 😉 xx

  2. Monkey came across death at 5 in the most horrible of ways, she went on holiday with her friend, friends mum and friends nan and my mum (who was close to her friends nan) and sadly said nan had COPD which claimed her life in the caravan on the third night. Poor baby was traumatised and all I could do was hold her. She seems to have dealt with it though in the most mature fashion and we talk about it openly and she knows that we all have to go at some point. Such a difficult subject to tackle though. All I can do is try to reassure her that we’ll be around as long as possible.

    1. Wow, I didn’t know any of this, poor little Monkey. Luckily, she’s a really bright kid and has been raised by one of the most pragmatic people I know. As usual, she’s a credit to you and what a brilliant Mum you are. Love you both xxx

  3. Its a painful subject isn’t it. The first time my kids had ever felt real grief was when we lost my Mum, they were 16, 15, 10 & 5. I sat the kids down and told them that Nanny was about to die. It was the hardest thing Ive ever done.

    The teenagers were visably distraught but kind of handled it themselves via their friends which I think for teenagers is very important for them. My younger ones I found more difficult because they didnt understand death like the older ones did. I found it hard to talk to them about it because everytime I tried, i’d cry because their little faces looked so heartbroken as they didnt want their Nan to die.

    It was a horrible thing to talk to them about and I dont really know if I handled it well or not although six years down the line they all seem perfectly happy and talk freely, and happily about Mum on a regular basis. My Hubby thinks that kids shouldn’t have to face death in a morbid or sad way or attend funerals and it should be treated by the parent or carer as something not to dwell on and to think of happy, fun memories of the lost person as soon after the passing as possible. We told them Nanny had gone to Heaven and we will miss her terribly but we know she is watching over us.

    My Mum told me on her deathbed that after she has gone that everytime I spot a pure white feather it is a sign from her, she said “Dont forget Emma, I’ll always have my eye on you kids!” and laughed. She then held my hand and said “Seriously Emma, when you spot a pure white feather it means I’m there” It brought me & the kids a lot of comfort after her death as we kept spotting white feathers everywhere. The kids still bring me white feathers if they find them, even the older ones.
    Happy positivity worked for us but I guess all families & kids are different.

    A friend of mine lost her niece four yrs ago and they still seem stuck in a deep bowl of grief. Her kids who lost their young cousin now suffer with depression and speak of their lost loved one in a sad tone rather than a happy one. They are still struggling to come to terms with her death and cant move on. I put it down to the fact that they were surrounded by so much negativity and still very much are.

    So I think trying to keep more positive rather than negative is much better for acceptance.
    I might be talking a load of rubbish but that is just our family experience xxx

    1. You most certainly aren’t talking a load of rubbish, I think that’s an absolutely lovely way to help you deal with things and is a wonderful way to keep a person you’ve lost firmly in your day to day life. Lorraine wasn’t at all religious and in fact had a Humanist funeral, no mention of heaven, and I’ve really struggled with how to explain to Sausage where Lorraine has gone without going against Lorraine’s principals OR upsetting my daughter and something like this is the perfect compromise.

      Thank you so much for commenting xx

  4. I taught Harry about death to hit home about the danger of things. I’ve never hidden it for him or pretended that it wasn’t inevitable or could happen at any time. This was mostly to teach him the severity of running into roads and other types of actions which could, actually, lead to death.

    I always described it as a dark place that you go where there are no toys or people and where Mummy can’t buy Lego or give him cuddles. I know that sounds awful but I stand by my decision to teach him about death.

    I always explain it too. It’s never like, ‘Don’t do that, you’ll die!’ It’s more like, ‘Don’t run out into that road, if a car comes fast it could knock you into the air and hurt you. You might die and then mummy would be sad because…’ etc.

    Harry’s been protected by me quite a lot. I don’t wrap him in cotton wool and I do believe that teaching him about the facts of life prepares him for living. Also, teaching him how his actions could cause harm to himself was another way of teaching him independence and responsibility. I do my best, but I can’t always be there and he needs to know the score when I’m not.

    I can’t remember when I first mentioned death to him, but it happened quite organically through conversation or an incident. He must have been just under three.

    My step-dad is also very into genealogy and Harry has a learnt understanding from that, that when you get old, you die. Life isn’t a permanent state. He discusses frequently with him about dead relatives and ancestors and looks at photos. I’d go as far as saying he has a perception of ancestry, definitely.

    His knowledge of death doesn’t change how he is, he’s not scared of it at all, he’s just cautious. Also, if you think you know about something, it becomes less frightening in my opinion and kids take what their parents say as gospel. Harry knows what death is, so doesn’t need to question it – it’s like sleeping, being awake, daydreaming – it’s just another state.

    x

    1. Thinking about it, I’m sure we’ve used that as an explanation for Sausage before, as an explanation for why she should be careful at the roads and things like that.

      When we’ve described the afterlife before, we always say that people go to heaven and get to see people they’ve not seen for a long time. With Lorraine, we told Sausage that she’s being looked after by Husband’s Nanny Molly who makes her fry-ups and cups of tea, and they both look after Mitzy the Cat because they both like cats so much. I suppose we’ve made it sound like some sort of celestial commune, maybe that’s because that’s what Husband and I both hope it’s like.

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