13 August 2007

Explaining Death to a Toddler

We have been very fortunate in that no one in our family has passed away in quite some time. There has been no need, and it seems this discussion is only conducted as needed, to go over what death is, what it means to die, and what the word dead is all about.

Naturally, I haven't the foggiest clue how I would answer any of these questions and really didn't think about my eventual answer...that is until my gal overhead older cousins taking about death as depicted in a Star Wards movie. Being the curious lass that she is, she wanted to know what it meant. I stumbled like a 13 year old caught with porn. I half started a couple sentences before my older brother stepped in to simply define for her death as when "your body stops working". She was fine with that and went along her merry way. Whoof, that was close. I almost had to come up with something on the fly that could have shaped her fears/imagination/etc about the topic of sickness/death for some time.

Seems then that toddlers don't need a lot of details, not all the time anyway. A short easy to transferable definition - something that has stopped working (batteries dying in a toy, etc) - satisfies their need to know and lets us grown ups off the hook, at least for a few more years, of sharing any of the nasty bits.

Thanks Bro!


Chaim said...

I'm not sure it's so much a matter of letting ourselves off the hook. When a young child asks a question, we often have the urge to give an answer that is something like the one WE would want if we were unknowing. As you pointed out, toddlers don't require that much information. As long as information flows to them naturally, I think kids ask questions at the pace they need to. The trick is to supply them with simple answers that don't force new questions out of them. We don't need to let ourselves "off the hook" so much as lay our egos aside and give the kids the answers that serve their interests best.

An example would be that when a very young child asks where she came from, the best answer wouldn't be to explain the mechanics of sex. "From your Mom" works fine.

At least, that's the way I see it.

I don't have any kids, but I have worked with kids of all ages for a while new, including a few years with preschoolers. Man, I could tell you a story or two about uncomfortable, unexpected questions...

landismom said...

Yeah, you dodged a bullet there. Let me just say--my dh fielded the "daddy, when will I die?" the other day from our four-year-old. It's coming quicker than you think.

Jeff - OWTK said...

Chaim, very good points. Finding simple answers that will not provoke additional questions is the ideal in that situation.

Landismom, how did your dh answer?

I think I want to flush this topic out a bit and explore some ways we as parents can answer the "tough" kid questions...

landismom said...

He said, "not for a long, long time."

I'm very interested in this topic (the tough questions in general, not just this one in particular).

I think that for me, it's taken a while to balance my need to tell the truth/be right against my kids' need to hear something that is reassuring/age appropriate.

I'm looking forward to your further thoughts on the matter.