How to Explain Death and Heaven to a 4 Year Old

Updated on September 11, 2011
E.W. asks from Jackson, NJ
6 answers

First, let me say that by NO means do I want to start any debate of religion what so ever. That being said, today we were watching some 9/11 things on tv. I vaguely explained to our 4yo old what happened and that lots of people died. He kept asking questions about what happens after you die. I told him we go to heaven, which is a nice happy place. But didn't know what else to say. I myself do not believe in God, but I am 100% open and respectful to all religions and the decision is up to my children as to what they choose to believe. That being said, I don't know how to explain death to my son in a way that he can understand and will not scare him or put a negative connotation to it. And I am sure that tomorrow morning, he will inquire further about the subject. So, how have you explained death to your children?

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answers from St. Louis on

When someone dies they no longer live on Earth but live in our memories.

Pretty easy one to go with. Talk about memories you have with your son, those are memories that are shared with the living. Then talk about memories you have with a grandparent or someone who has passed. Then explain they will always be alive because you remember.

There see, easy, no religion needed.

I am religious so this is not how I explain it to my kids but it is a part of how I explain it. I think it gives people peace and the ability to remember happy times without the guilt of mourning.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

You can keep God out of it entirely (wondering why you mentioned heaven at all) by explaining that all living things have a life with a beginning, middle and end.

If you want to go the Heaven route, you kind of have to explain something about God and eternal life.....I guess you could say that if some people believe in God/Christ and those people get to live in Heaven for eternity. (With respect to him forming his own opinion--and at 4 I think he's too young to do that.)

I've explained it that way to my son, that because God loved us so much, he sent his son to live on Earth to ensure that we will one day live forever in Heaven....with Him and each other.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

When in doubt, get a book!

One that might be appropriate is "Lifetimes" by Bryan Mellonie. This is a classic book used with children to explain death. I addresses it from the point of view of nature and seasons...things have a natural season of life.

Another book that I really like is "When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death" by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown (the author/illustrator of the cartoon Arthur). This is a cartoon book. It talks about what being *dead* means, various customs surrounding religious ceremonies, typical emotional reactions, ways to remember someone. I recommend it highly.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Spokane on

This is what I've told my 3 and 5 year old.

When our bodies get old or very very sick they stop working and we die. Our bodies get burried in the ground and our spirits go to heaven. No one knows what heaven is REALLY like, because you can't go there if you're alive. Our spirit is what makes us *us* - our thoughts, feelings, memories and love - the important parts.

My oldest asked a bunch of questions like 'can I phone you in heaven?' and 'is there a road to heaven?', which I answered honestly.

I say be as honest as you can. You can even go into what other religions believe because you're not tied to one yourself: look up what Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Catholisism, etc believe *with* your son and let him begin the process of finding his faith (if he will in fact choose just one).

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Momma L stole my answer...that's exactly how I explain it to the kids. Visual aid...concrete ideas...easy to understand.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

I used to work with children in the bereavement department in a hospice setting. This subject is scary because no matter the spin you put on it, its painful, its a loss. I wouldn't say it is negative. (Not saying 9/11 wasn't a negative because it was a violent act.) It is a part of life. It is sad and hard. Period.

My grandfather and his girlfriend died with in the past few months so I've had to explain death to my four-year-old daughter. Children at this age will not completely get it and that's okay.

Very simple sentences. It is sad to those left behind, but wonderful because the person is in an amazing place, if that's what you believe. The thing is, this is about what YOU believe, and then being able to relay that to your son. You can leave it open to him later, but your beliefs will guide him.

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