Google+ Authentic Parenting: The Child and the Concept of Death

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Child and the Concept of Death

My daughter and I watch  lot of animation on YouTube, and one day - my daughter was about 2 and six months old - we watched this one, called One Life, from AniBoom, a very touching animation o the topic of death.

Now, my daughter wasn't new to the topic of death, even though nobody close to her has died in her short life. Living in Africa, you are a lot closer to death then in Europe.  Death is just a part of life.
As we are very close to the food we eat, she know that animals have to die if she wants to eat them, she has even helped plume a chicken and gut a goat (there's a nice biology lesson for you).

But this animation struck a cord and we watched it over and over again. She also started pointing out when people would die in movies. And then the questions came.
"Am I going to die mommy?"
"Are you?"
"When will we die?"
"How will we die?"
"What happens to us when we die?"
"Does it hurt to die?"
"I want to die with you mommy."

The topic of death is a tricky one, because it is inherently laden with what you believe, or don't believe, so - no matter the route you take - you are tainting your child's vision of life with your set of beliefs.
Since we are atheist, we have a more scientific and dry approach to death. There is no afterlife for us. Although when we discussed what happens after death, I told her that people hold different beliefs about that. That biologically, we return to the earth, but some people believe you go to heaven, others believe you are reborn. We can't quite know for sure.

A lot of parents are afraid to touch the topic of death with a small child. I think it is better to discuss death before it strikes close. Death is a part of life, there is no need to hush that away. It is because we are mortal that life is so grand.
If you wait until someone close to you dies, there is all the emotion, and so much more to take in for your child. So yes, I believe that watching an animation about an old man who dies is a healthy way to introduce the concept of death. Even if it leads to heartbreaking statements like "Mommy, I want to die with you, and go back to the earth when yo do."

So how did you aboard the subject and how old was your child at the time?



  1. This is a great post. The lesson of mortality, no matter what the religion, is necessary in my mind for building compassion. I very often use death and suffering and survival struggles as lessons for my kids. The realization that I was mortal is something I distinctly remember. My kids are 6 and 4 (and 2, but that kid doesn't know anything much about death) and they both have had many death experiences, with bugs and animals like your daughter.

    I wrote about a specific single powerful teaching about life and death that my father led me through, which shook me to the core and helped me ever since -- especially now as I'm a father myself. The link is:
    How to Build Compassionate Kids: Deadly Beasts, Cannibals, Empathy, and Enlightenment

  2. We have only started now to touch the concept of death with our toddler of two and a half. Apparently a boy's father at the day care has died, and he has been telling them over and over that his father is dead! It struck a cord, and our toddler wants to know every now and again when somebody gets hurt: "He has died?!"
    I will show her the aniboom video, thanks!

  3. Death sort of smacked us in the mother died when my older son was just 18 mos. old and my father died when my younger son was 9 mos and my older son was 3 1/2. I felt it very important that they be part of everything. My father died in the home...he was in the care of hospice for cancer, but the day to day care was being given by myself and my siblings and our wonderful extended family. My kids were through much of it. I stressed to my older son and my nephew (six at the time) how important it was that we all help Pa-Pa feel comfortable and happy during his decline. They accompanied us to the calling hours and funeral as well. We talk to our kids about how we believe in Heaven and how some people believe in being reborn and some people believe we just die, and it is all okay. We have also attended the viewing of their little friend's grandfather. I guess in writing this I realize as a family our main things are teaching them truth and sensitivity. That when someone dies we show up to help the family.

  4. It makes me so sad that the man in the video died alone hooked up to machines!

    I had to start talking to my daughter about death this past Easter morning after my dad died. She was 22 months old then. I was very matter of fact. Pa Pa was very sick (which she already knew because we'd been there for almost 6 weeks taking care of him), his body was broken and it stopped working and he died. He is gone forever, and we will not see him anymore. Because my husband and I aren't religious that was the extent of it. As she gets older I will explain to her what other people think happens after death. She attended the viewing and funeral and regularly looks at pictures of my dad and says "Pa Pa gone. Forever." So far, I'm very content with the way things have gone.

  5. We talked about death with my son, when he was 2 1/2 yo. My grandmother had died. I told him that when someone dies, his/her life is over. That the body is either put in Earth, when it becomes food for plants, or burnt in ashes, and the ashes then become food for plants, too. The topic came again several time since my grandmother funeral, but not many questions, so far. I'll be ready to explain more when he (or his sisters) will ask more about it, or when the opportunity will arise.

    I love your approach of the different beliefs of the afterdeath. We are atheists too, and I was not sure how to talk about it. I think I'll follow your example.

  6. @Murielle: I love when it's your reading day :)


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