N.M. asks from Wayne, PA on July 09, 2008
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?
L.G. answers from Philadelphia on July 10, 2008
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
J.L. answers from Philadelphia on July 10, 2008
I agree with using books to explain death to children. I have a great book called Waterbugs and Dragonflies. It's written by Doris Stickney. It's a short little book but explains how when people die they go somewhere else and can't come back to see us anymore. I was first introduced to it in high school when my uncle died and the preacher did a little "childrens sermon" at the funeral service because my uncle had a lot of grandchildren. It not only helped the children but touched a lot of the adults as well. Good luck with helping your children through their grief and I'm sorry for your loss.
S.C. answers from York on July 10, 2008
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.
A.L. answers from Philadelphia on July 10, 2008
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.
A.M. answers from Philadelphia on July 10, 2008
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.
T.G. answers from Scranton on July 10, 2008
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.
S.B. answers from Philadelphia on July 10, 2008
Hi N. - I'm so sorry for your loss.
I'm a SAHM of 4 children and 1 of my own. One is 5 and the rest under the age of 2. Kids are smart....but will usually forget things that aren't in front of them anymore. I wouldn't get into details with your child. I would merely just tell them they are home with Jesus now or something to that affect. I probably wouldn't take them to the funeral. They are sure to ask too many questions, which in return will upset you more than anyone. Death is around us every minute of everyday, so why purposely expose them to it so young.
I wish you the best to all your family.
M.F. answers from Pittsburgh on July 09, 2008
I'm so sorry for the death of your family member. When I worked for hospice back in Ohio, we counseled family members to talk openly and honestly to their children - even young children - about death. Try not to use euphemisms, especially "Uncle went to sleep" as this will confuse and frighten a child. Tell them that his body stopped working and that all living things will one day die which means their bodies will stop working. Keep it simple. Give them the news initially, but then let their questions, if any, guide you.
Children are awesome at knowing how much info. they can handle. They will ask questions as they think of them. They will play when they've had enough.
Books are a great way to talk about death with your children. "Bear's Last Journey" is a great book. It will be too advanced for your 1 1/2 yr. old, but great for your almost 3 yr. old. Funeral homes often have other resources, books, pamphlets. I know we used to hand out a Mr. Rogers pamphlet/mini book to our families with small children.
When the time is appropriate and depending on your belief system, you can encourage your children to continue their relationship with their Uncle even though he has died. Tell them they can still talk to him and think of him whenever they want to even though they can't see him anymore. Remind them how much he loved them. Remind them how much you love them and give lots of reassurance.
Please feel free to e-mail me if you have any more questions.
I hope you find the info. helpful and blessings to you and your family during this most difficult time.