Talking about death with a 6-year-old

My granddaughter is 6, and sometimes seems to be obsessed with death and dying. She knows that every living thing eventually dies. Just last night she became teary remembering her aunt’s dog dying. She knows that she lives in the house where her mother’s grandmother lived before she died, and talks about how sad it is that she never got to meet her great-grandmothers. She also tells me how sad she is going to be when I die. I reassure her that I plan to live to be 200 years old.

We are not a religious family, but somewhere she has picked up the idea of heaven, and says she will be glad to see her aunt’s dog and her great-grandmother when she dies and goes to heaven.

I find this distressing but don’t know what more to say. I told her last night that she should not worry about things like that but to enjoy her life now with all the people that love her and all the good experiences she will continue to have.

What do you think is a good way to talk to an intelligent child of this age about the end of life?

I think around that age kids tend to get curious about death. After a while they move on to something else. Pets dying is a catalyst in my experience. You already told her the right thing. This will pass soon.

My nieces were like that for a while, especially after having been around so much death in their short lives (great grandparents, one grandpa, my aunt, daddy’s friend, Mommy’s friend, Mommy’s ain’t, my dog…the kids are 4 and 6). They talked about it a LOT but it never really seemed to upset them, just sort of gnaw at them. They have found other stuff to worry about now that kind of affects them in a more meaningful way but still occasionally bring up death in weird But Un-concerning ways.

I think the answer you have your granddaughter is great, and will be very helpful to her.

I think you handled it quite well. You basically applied the donut analogy without the donuts.

For the more advanced, there’s always Epicurus:
Accustom yourself to believing that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply the capacity for sensation, and death is the privation of all sentience; therefore a correct understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life a limitless time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no terrors for him who has thoroughly understood that there are no terrors for him in ceasing to live. Foolish, therefore, is the man who says that he fears death, not because it will pain when it comes, but because it pains in the prospect. Whatever causes no annoyance when it is present, causes only a groundless pain in the expectation. Death, therefore, the most awful of evils, is nothing to us, seeing that, when we are, death is not come, and, when death is come, we are not. It is nothing, then, either to the living or to the dead, for with the living it is not and the dead exist no longer.

http://www.epicurus.net/en/menoeceus.html

I think you did fine. I’d avoid theology arguments with six year olds - heaven is a fine concept at that age and later she can dispose of it if she doesn’t need it. (Frankly, its a fine concept at any age - comforting - its the application of the concept people screw up). And you want kids to learn to think for themselves. I liked the “well, some people believe that, and other people believe in reincarnation, and some people think you just become one with the universe” with my own kids. I’m not sure if in practicality ceasing to exist and becoming one with the universe are really any different, but it sounds nicer :slight_smile:

(Credentials - I teach Unitarian Sunday school. In any first and second grade class I have believers and disbelievers, new age woo kids and Christians and atheists - and we respect them all. And - while Unitarian kids are almost universally insufferable in middle school - if they make it through, they are amazing).

Be honest with her. Kids are very emotionally resilient, and can deal with the truth or with heart-felt honest opinions.

Thanks for the reassuring words. Of course there’s another thread currently about very young children committing suicide, which is a horrible thing to think about. I’d hate to think of my granddaughter wanting to end her life to see her dead great-grandmother and/or her aunt’s dog.

I wouldn’t worry about suicide too much. Its statistically unlikely. And she is very likely aware that its a one way trip - you don’t visit heaven and come back - and she’d miss the people here.

Wanting to visit heaven is not the same thing as wanting to end your life. For a six year old, wanting to visit Santa at the North Pole doesn’t mean they are about to go winter camping.

Yeah. Six year olds have more understanding of that sort of thing than you would think.

I have only taken a couple of developmental psychology classes while on my way to a masters in education, but my understanding (and my experience with raising a 6 year old right now backs this up) is that 6 is a developmentally appropriate time to start grappling with the idea of death. It’s pretty normal and actually sort of important that she processes this stuff at this stage of her life. As her Grandparent you just need to let her know that you are there for her now and love her and that it’s ok.

I discuss what my views are (that you simply do not exist anymore). AND I also discuss what other people out there think about the subject - heaven, reincarnation, etc.

And I say the kid can choose to think whatever he/she so desires… BUT to be mindful that some people out there are not very intelligent - can only fathom what their religion teaches them - are not open to ANY other ideas. So best to not discuss this with other people sometimes or not say what you believe if it is contrary to other people’s beliefs. [Respect the views of other people.]

We made a point of not shielding our kids from the existence of death. I remember bringing my eldest to a great aunt’s wake when she was a toddler. All the old relatives welcomed the distraction. And when our elderly neighbor Joe died, we brought the kids to the wake. They knew Joe, and we wanted them to now why they wouldn’t be seeing him again. And then there was the time we found that dead body while hiking through the woods… :eek:

I remember burying dead birds we found, pet fish and the like. Didn’t make a big deal out of it or anything. We are atheist, and had our kids go to UU RE classes. To us, the finality of death was a part of teaching our kids to value their present existence. Not aware of THAT aspect of our parenting having overly fucked up our kids. :dubious:

I think in some ways modern youth are too sheltered from the reality of death.

Americans in general are too sheltered from the reality of death. We somehow think we can avoid it. But that is a whole different thread…