Talking About Death With Children

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We don’t expect to encounter death on a walk in our local park but a few weeks back we came face to face with nature at it’s cruelest.

On our way to see the new born goslings on the pond we noticed the coots had also got chicks.

As we excitedly counted the coot chicks, the heron swooped down right in front of us grabbed a chick, ate it and came back for another.

It all occurred so quickly there was no time to walk away or pretend it hadn’t happened.

My 3 year old and her friend were for a good while distraught but later they both drew pictures which they said were “Naughty Mr Heron” taking the coots and for the next few days talked about it non-stop to everyone they met.

Sometimes they were matter of fact – Mrs Coot would lay more eggs. Sometimes their stories subtly shifted what had happened – it wasn’t “our” nice Mr Heron who had done the dastardly deed, it was another Mr Heron from another park.

We had a similar experience at Easter time when our family cat died. We tried to be as straight forward as possible – Coco the cat had had a lovely life, but she was very old and had been poorly and she died sitting on the lap of someone she felt very loved by.

Again, there were lots of tears and a lot of talking about all the lovely and funny things Coco had done. We read many times over Badger’s Parting GiftsTalking About Death With Children 3 – a really beautiful book about death from old age and how we feel incredible sadness at losing someone but also great joy about all our wonderful memories.

And again there was constant story telling about Coco which in time wandered a long way from reality and which I wasn’t at all sure how to handle.

As it was Easter we had talked about Jesus dying but coming back to life because he was the son of God. We had also just read The Lion The Witch and the WardrobeTalking About Death With Children 3 – a surprisingly accessible book for any child starting to enjoy chapter books because it is so tightly written and so exciting – in which of course Aslan also comes back to life.

Coco the cat, we were told, had died before and come back to life before she finally died. Then, Jesus wasn’t the son of God, Coco was. And finally in a truly surreal moment at bedtime that Coco was the god of Sun.

Oh my goodness … what do I say? … where do I start to unpick this story telling?

Initially from cowardice but eventually from conviction, I decided to let her stories run their own course. Rather than correcting, I just listened. Children make sense of everything new by talking about it and making up stories that can be both brutally factual and muddled – and sometimes disturbing – fantasy in turn.

All I think you can do is:

  • Sow the seeds of fact in being honest about what happened and what death means
  • Show that it is OK to be both sad and angry through your own behaviour and through reading stories about grief – Chocolate ChippedTalking About Death With Children 3Michael Rosen’s SADTalking About Death With Children 3 and Goodbye Mog in addition to Badger’s Parting Gifts are all in their own ways excellent for this
  • Give children uncensored opportunities to explore both their feelings and their understanding in drawings, stories and lots of imaginary play.

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Luci

Luci

Hello, I'm Luci, Editor of Mums Make Lists. MML is full of creative tips I’ve put together to bring calm and balance to the lives of busy mums and their families.

9 thoughts on “Talking About Death With Children”

  1. I think you are right that it is important to let kids process death and work it out for themselves. Unfortunately Goblin learned about death very early because his grandfather died when we was two and a half. Last Christmas we went to stay at the grandparents house. Goblin asked where his grandfather ‘poppy’ was. We explained that he died. Goblin said “in a swimming pool?”. It took us ages to realise he was confusing the word died and dived. He has spoken about Poppy dying a lot since then and every time it has a slightly different spin – once Poppy had been eaten by a crocodile – don’t know where that one came from.

  2. Such great advice on dealing with it. We put our cat down in 2011 when my daughter was 2.5 and she still talks about missing him. It is such a hard thing to deal with. Thank you for sharing on Sharing Saturday!!

  3. I love the idea of your cat being the god of sun! 🙂 I think you are right that it’s best to accept any strange stories children tell about their lost loved one, as it’s part of their processing the loss.

    Thanks for mentioning Goodbye Mog. I am American and did not realize there were any Mog books other than Mog the Forgetful Cat, which I checked out of the library again and again as a child! I recently realized that with today’s Internet booksellers, I could ask my family to get this book for my children for Christmas and actually have a reasonable expectation of receiving it. Now I know there are many Mog books available!
    —‘Becca

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