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How to Tell Your Toddlers About Death of Family Member

We recently had bad news about the passing of an Uncle of my 2 (almost 3) year old and 1-1/2 year old. We haven't said anything to them yet and the services are this weekend. How does one approach telling their toddlers, particularly the 2 year old who is very intelligent and conversant about this horrible news?

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Hi,

I am very sorry to hear your sad news. I lost my grandfather when my older son was 2 1/2 and my mother-in-law found a great book for me. It is called, "How Do We Tell the Children" by Dan Schaefer and Christine Lyons. It covers children ages 2 through teen and all different situations from the death of a pet to a close family member to a baby. It's a hard book to read (maybe because I was pregnant at the time) but it really helps you as a parent guide your children and understand their needs at that difficult time.

Best of luck and God Bless!

1 mom found this helpful

Dear N.,
I am so sorry for your loss.

Both my mother and my spouse's mum died in the last 2 years and we told our 5 year old and 3 year old as much as we could. We did not want them shocked by our crying and sadness. 2 years ago we took our eldest to the service but left our youngest home with a good friend. Both children went to the service this May for my MIL. We read them books about death. 3 favorites are: Rudi's Pond by Eve Bunting, I Miss You by Pat Thomas, and Dribbles by Connie Heckert. (We returned "the fall of Freddie the Leaf", we felt it was too intellectual and advance and long for our children and their attention span - mine too for that matter.) My spouse & I agreed that we would be as honest without being gruesome to our children. Both our mum's died from cancer in which the family participated in their care so our children (age appropriate) helped to care or visited and gave cuddles and held hands until the last possible moment. Your children will amaze you with their compassion, curiosity, and wisdom. Let them guide you in your discussions. And if it is your families philosophy, let them see your many different emotions.

Again, my condolences for your families loss & sadness.

Sincerely,
A. m.

I think this is dependent upon your religious beliefs. We told our daughter that God needed her aunt. That she would still be able to watch over her from heaven but that we wouldn't be able to see her anymore. We told her that she was welcome to tell her aunt things if she needed to in the same way that she prays to God and that God would make sure her aunt heard her. We also told her that her aunt loved her very much and wanted to be there to see her (and her own daughters) grow up but couldn't be. We made sure to tell her that it was okay for her to miss her aunt and to be angry or upset that she was gone. We told her that if she was feeling angry or upset or wanted to talk about her aunt, that we would be happy to talk with her about it and listen to her.

This sounds like a lot to tell them but it really isn't that much. It does sometimes take some reminders as to why they can't see that person and you might have to tell them again just because it is a difficult concept to understand and toddlers/preschoolers attention spans aren't always the best. When her aunt died, my daughter was 4 years old. However, my cousins little boy was almost 2. She told him the same thing. Like I said, it takes a little longer for them to understand and a little more understanding and patience as a parent with the younger ones but they get a lot more than adults give them credit for.

My best advice is to be straightforward and as honest as possible. My aunt's death was very violent so we did not share any of those details with my daughter. We spent a bit of time sitting with her and listening to her talk about her aunt and ask questions about what did we think she was doing right now and do you think she misses me, etc. Overall, I have to say that it is probably harder on the adults than the children. Children are very resilient.

Anyhow, good luck. I hope this helps.

My grandmother died when my eldest was 3, and her younger sister was 1. I come at my answer from a Christian perspective, so you can take it or leave it if your orientation to life is different. :-)

Great-Grandma was in a nursing home, in a wheelchair when she was out of bed, and she was failing enough that at christmastime, my eldest asked me when she was going to die. She did die in Feb., and my mom called me to let me know. I didn't tell the kids (mostly the older one) right off, because I didn't want to sit them down and poentially traumatize them.

but oddly enough, the next morning on the way to daycare, Beth asked me, "Mommy, when is Great Grandma going to die?" I told her that she had just died the day before. That her body stopped working, and God gave her a new healthy one. The trick with the healthy one is that you can only use it in God's house, up in heaven. But I made sure she understood that Great Grandma couldn't get sick anymore, in fact, she was now healthy enough to run and jump just like Beth could. All was quiet while she digested this info, and then I heard a loud, "MOMMY!!!!" come from the carseat next to me. I said, "what?" And she announced, "She doesn't need her wheelchair anymore !!!!"

What was really neat about this, is that Beth had been afraid of the wheelchair. If we visited when Grandma was in the wheelchair, Beth wouldn't leave my arms. she was afraid of her Great Grandma. But if Great Grandma happened to be in bed when we arrived, Beth would climb right up on the bed and gab with her. so, in the end, death took away the thing that had interfered in Beth's relationship with her Great Grandma.

that's our story. we had previously been by a cemetary one day when Beth had asked me what it was. At that point, God inspired me to give a good explanation. I told her that when we get old and our bodies no longer work, then God gives us new bodies but we can't use them here on earth. WE have to use them in god's house. Since we don't get to see them anymore, we put their old now useless bodies in the ground, and we put stones up so we can remember them.

It worked well for us, and that simple explanation has stood our family well throughout the years, even as we and the children aged, because sometimes the most simple of explanations work best for those of us who are older and need to be reminded to have faith, and that God is still at work and still loving us, even when we are experiencing times of great pain and loss.

there are also a great number of children's books that deal with topics like this. I would READ before you buy, however. Picture books are easy and quick to read, and you should do so to be sure the information presented is what YOU want your children to hear. I've read good children's books and I've read children's books that are horrible. So don't trust the label or the endorsement. READ the book before you buy it. If it deals with the issue in a way that resonates with your child, you'll be surprised, but when asking what to read at bedtime, it'll be the book about death. wow. Not your usual choice, but when it touches the right chord in your child, it'll be comforting and will help him or her to feel good about themselves. :-)

Above all, treat death like a fact of life. Try not to let the kids see the trauma of it, but to experience the loss at their level, based upon how well they knew the relative. It's okay to cry with them, but try to be as positive as you can about living in the aftermath. Only dwell upon the loss wtih the kids as long as the kids want to dwell on it. they don't feel it as keenly as you do, so you don't want to push your feelings onto them. While they will miss their uncle, particularly at family gathering times, they are more likely to take the loss in stride and keep going than you are. :-)

and if you have questions about what happens after life here on earth, I recommend you talk with a Christian minister. that way you will be able to gain assurance of God's love in your life, and you will be able to have confidence in the future, no matter what happens to you or to those around you.

Best of luck. It'll work out. Really.

I would tell them that he was called to heaven to be with god. If they are not religious I don't know what I would say.

Thanks,

T.

It sounds like you are planning to take the children to the services. If so, you need to have this conversation ASAP. A brief explanation & offer to answer any questions.
My husband's grandmother died in May (shortly after my son turned 5). We traveled to NY (from PA) for the services. We explained ahead of time that we would see other relatives there, but that grandma would be lying down. We did allow him to see her in the casket. The viewing was several hours long & we brought things to entertain him, & he behaved quite well. However, he did return to the casket several times. One of the items we brought for him was a mini-photo album with pictures of him over the last few months to show my in-laws who live about 6 hrs away & we only see a few times a year. Because she was Catholic (I think that's the reason, anyway) there was a type of kneeling bench at the head of the casket. At one point, my son asked to "show grandma the pictures". So I took him up to the casket for a few minutes (when no one else was in the immediate vicinity) & allowed him to "show" her the pictures. Even now, I have tears in my eyes as I remember him asking to give her a hug & a kiss. I explained to him that her body was here, but that the part of her that loves us back is with Jesus now.
You didn't mention if you have any particular religious affiliation. If so, you'll want to incorporate that into your conversation. If not, I'm not really sure wha tto say, since you'd obviously wnt to train your children in your beliefs, and I have no idea how to approach that.
I am so sorry for your loss. I will pray for you & your family during this difficult time.

If you do an internet search for explaining death to a child, you get a lot of resources. I'm sure you've gotten some pretty good advice on here already, but it's worth checking out if you're still unsure.

There are books out there that can help you, I don't know any of the names off hand but go to any barnes and nobles or something and they can help you. As far as what I would say, this may not be the same thing but to explain to my 3 year old daughter where the cat was (he was 20 and ill so he had to be put down) we told her that he was old and had a good life but god needed him and he was in a better place where he would be able to run and jump and play again. As far as for a human, I don't know the circumstance but telling them that he is in a better place and that he will always be there in their hearts seems to work from what I have seen and telling them that although you can't hear him anymore you can always talk to them and they will hear you and watch out for you. I am not sure what your religion is but I hope this helps. I am so sorry for your loss. I will keep your family in my prayers.

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