Seeking Advice on How to Tell Small Children of a Grandparents Passing

Updated on June 26, 2008
J.S. asks from Slatington, PA
17 answers

I am looking for some advice on how to tell my 3 & 4 yr old girls that my mother (their grandmother) passed away.. My mom was diagnosed with lung cancer in August at only 47 and passed away last night.. She had been staying with us and the girls asked today where is grandma cause she was there when they went to bed.. I don't want to lie to them or not tell them.. I just really am having a hard time trying to figure out what to tell them.. Any avice on what to tell them would be greatly appreciated as that me & my husband still haven't figured out what to tell them..

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So What Happened?

Well we explained to the girls that Grandma went to be with the Angels.. My 4yr od made us cry when she said that how are we gonna get there to pick her up.. Then we explained to her that she couldn't see or touch her anymore and she started crying that she wanted to still see Grandma.. My 3yr old really didn't have any questions that night, but the next day she did.. Surprisingly my 4yr old help explain to her.. They understand now cause they will say Grandma is with the fairies (we tell them angels) and that she wateches them and is happy.. It was the hardest thing I think of the whole part was watching them try to understand.. We have decided that going to the memorial & burial would be just to much for them.. I just wanted to thank everyone for the wonderful advice that was given and also for the condolences..

Thank You,

More Answers



answers from Reading on

I'm very sorry for your loss. My mother-in-law died this morning of lung cancer and I had to tell my 4.5 yr old daughter. We had a cat that was hit by a car last year, so we had been visiting the subject for a while.

I had contacted a grief counselor at Olivias House, where they specialize in Children's losses. They said children don't understand abstracts such as "She is in heaven" or "She is with God". The best approach is short honest answers. First, define death - no more sleeping, no more eating, no more seeing, hearing, talking, etc. Then explain that they won't see grandmother anymore but they can think of her anytime, and if appropriate in your opinion, remember her with flowers at the gravesite, etc. DO NOT, under ANY circumstances, allow anyone to tell the children that she is sleeping or has "gone to her eternal resting place". This can cause fear of going to bed. Also, it is helpful to be very specific that she died from cancer, NOT that she was sick. Otherwise, they may fear that they will die or that you or someone else may die from something like a cold or the flu. If they ask questions, give them short, specific, age appropriate responses. Children are usually asking a very specific question so really listen to them.

I hope that helps. It's already a tough time and explaining things to them isn't easy. Let them see you grieve and tell them that people will be sad about this. One thing to keep in mind that I've experienced already this morning, they will say things that sound odd, cold, and out of place since this is their first experience with death. Also, they may not immediately be sad or may be sad very breifly and move on. Be patient as possible.

God bless,

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My heart goes out to you. I faced a similar thing a couple of years ago with my mom and my then 5 year old daughter. I am sure that your daughters knew that she was sick? When my mom passed away, we had a long drive from MD to Texas to prepare my daughter for what she might face when we got there. We talked about angels and heaven and she decided that since her grandmomma made the "bestest" peanut butter sandwiches anywhere, that God needed her to come and help him make those sandwiches for him. At the funeral the minister even mentioned how J. had reasoned that out. All the way back to MD, she asked what Grandmomma might be doing now. We decided that she was picking out a robe, she was getting a cup of coffee, she was finding her friends and family, and getting a comfortable rocking chair so that she could rock the babies that needed her touch. By making things more realistic, it was easier for her to understand. We also told her that Grandmomma would always live in her heart and she would always be able to hear her telling her that she loved her. J. talks about the times she spent with my mother and hasn't ever been scared about why she isn't at the house when we go to see my dad.

I hope this helps. Again, you have my deepest sympathy.



answers from Philadelphia on

I'm sorry for your loss.

I would tell them that their grandma is with the angels now. good luck



answers from Philadelphia on

Ironically movies like "Lion King" was really helpful for my young nephew to due with his grandparent's death. He was a lot younger though when that happened (2 1/2). I guess it also depends on your spiritual beliefs. There are a few good books for kids on the subject as well.

I'm sorry for your lost.



answers from Sharon on


I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I would tell the girls that it was Grandma's time to go to Heaven and live with Jesus, and that she is always with them in their heart.




answers from Philadelphia on

I am very sorry for your loss.



answers from Philadelphia on

hey J..
sarry that your mom pass away.if you need to talk you can e-mail me any for your girls .well ,you can tell them the angles has come to take grandmom home to her new place.
or you can tell them grandmom found a new job as an angle and she watch over us all the time.i wish i could help with more my girls are 19 and 29 of ages.



answers from Dover on

I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my mom this summer very suddenly. I struggled with what to tell my 2 1/2 year old. I felt she was too little to understand the concept of Heaven and that she went to live with Jesus, etc. So, I used concepts that I thought she'd understand. My daughter has one of those strawberry birthmarks on her collar bone. My mom used to tell her it was an angel kiss. My mom and daughter used to sing this song about "The Stars At Night." I started the conversation by asking her where her Angel Kiss was. She showed me. I told her that the same angels that kissed her came and got her nanny and took her up to the stars with them. I explained that we couldn't see or touch nanny anymore, but that we could talk to her up in the stars. It worked well. My daughter never asked for Nanny again. Except when the stars are out! Then she stands and yells to her! It's very cute--and of course makes me cry every time!Sometimes she tells me she misses her.

Good luck...and I'm sorry for your loss.



answers from Washington DC on

First, I'm really sorry to hear of the loss of your mom. I can't imagine how hard it is to lose a mother. I'm so sorry.

It's hard, but you need to be honest. Put it in terms they'll understand, but I wouldn't tell them she went on a long trip or is sleeping.

My grandmother died of cancer when my son was very small. We told him that Mommom was very very sick and now that Jesus finished her house in heaven it was time for her to go there.

If you're not religious or Christian or whatever, you can just modify that how it works best for your family.

Kids that age tend to view things like death as the result of something they did. Please reassure them that grandma dying is in no way their fault. That will go a long way to helping.

God bless you. Good luck.



answers from Philadelphia on

I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. I've been through this on November 28, when my sweet father-in-law passed. My children are teenagers, and it was actually quite a wonderful thing that they could actually be with their grandfather and the rest of the family when he died.
Your children are so young, and their understanding will be limited now. Simply tell them the truth, using terms that they will understand. Try keeping it as simple as possible, one sentence at a time. They will ask questions, and that will lead your conversation. Perhaps start just by saying, "Grandmom died last night. Do you know what that means?" Your children might ask you if she is coming back. Or they might want to know why you are sad. Tell them the truth. In fact, I think that being honest and following their lead will actually help you process your grief a bit, too.
Again, I am so sorry for your loss.



answers from Pittsburgh on

I am so sorry about your mother. My suggestion to you is to ALWAYS be honest with them!! Remind them of the good times and depending on your religion....explain to them the best of your beliefs!! I have always explained briefly to my son anything that has gone on in life and he was happy with just that!! They trust you and dont want to hear answers from anyone else!! Hope this somewhat helps and good luck!! Once again sorry for your loss and take care!!



answers from Pittsburgh on

My mom died of breast cancer last year. My son was too little to totally understand (he was 1 1/2), but my nieces who were 2 1/2 and 4 (almost 5) understood a little more. We tried to keep our explanations simple and on a level they could all understand. With my nieces, they knew mom had been sick for awhile. My sister told them that my mom went to heaven to be with Jesus and she wasn't sick any more. They eventually asked the can I go visit questions and we told them that heaven is really far away but they will get to see her again some day and it's okay to be sad and miss grandma. My son knows grandma is with Jesus and will point up at the sky. He also sends the balloons we get in restaurants up in the sky so grandma can play with them.

Hang in there. I am sorry to hear about your mom. My mom was only 53 and had been living with cancer for 19 years when she passed.



answers from Philadelphia on

I just lost my grandmother who my 4 year old daughter was very close to. We got a necklace off of QVC it is a heart with a bell in it and gave it to her from my grandmother with a card that said she loved her and would laways watch over her when she wore the necklace and heard the bell it was her heart ringing with love for her. We told her she was in heaven with my grandfather who she knows of and our dog. She was very sad lots of tears and problems with bedtime but now it has been a month and things are getting better. She talks about her and we also gave her a picture of the two of them together for her room and she has some of my grandmothers things. You might even want to give them a specail shirt or sweater and tell them to put it on and grandmom will be giving them hugs did that too. I'm very sorry for your loss it is hard but your children will help get you through it is amazing. Let me know if you need any other ideas. One more thing I didn't take her to the viewing or funeral we all thought it would be too much.



answers from Lancaster on

Hi J.
I am sorry for your loss. My mother in law passed away 4 years ago from cancer also. Our daughetr was 3 at the time. We told her that grandma was in heaven now and she was not sick anymore. We explained how her body did not work anymore but all the love and who she was inside when to be with god and all the people that she loved in heaven. Our daughter was very into acting out the funeral which was very hard on my husband but very helpful for her. We told her that grandma loved her very much and that we loved her and that grandma was always with her in her heart. I hope that this helps a little bit it is a very hard time in yor families life. Just love each other and trust in god that your mom is happy and well. She will always be with you.



answers from Scranton on

I am sorry that your mother passed on and it is the worst feeling to have. I can empasize with you because my father died of the same horrible disease in 1992. The worst part is that he died at my house and not only did i find him . I had my two children (at that time they were 5 and 3) were with me.
At first I told them that he was sleeping but when it was getting closer to the funeral I explained that God wanted to take him to heaven with him so that he can make him better there. Then when they asked why would God do that I told them that they seen how much their "pap" was fighting to breathe and how hard it was for him get around so God wanted to make him better but he couldn't do that here on earth. I don't know if it really explained much to them but they started to understand that it was better for him to pass on than stay with them to suffer.



answers from Harrisburg on

I'm sorry to hear your mom has passed away. I'll pray for you and your family. I agree with everyone else, be honest with them. My grandfather passed away 2.5 years ago, and my youngest was 4. I really struggled with taking her to the funeral, etc, but taking her was the best decision i ever made. We didn't go into great detail, but somehow, i do think she understood that he was no longer living. We talked about heaven and Pappy going to be with Jesus. We live about 3 hours from my family, but I'd say my kids were pretty close to him....we still talk about him, and every once in a while, my youngest will ask something about him, and we have to remind her that he did pass away.

Please let us know how it goes with your kids.




answers from Allentown on

Jaime, I am very sorry for your loss. You and your family are in my prayers. There is a book called What is Heaven? written by Maria Shriver. We bought it last year at this time when we lost my grandmother. We told our daughter that GG went to heaven and would look over us in all we do and we read the book to her.

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