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Last night my wife (as usual) was putting our 4.5yr-old baby girl to sleep. Our daughter becomes very chatty at that time and (especially in the presence of mom) expresses thoughts and things that happened during the day. Just then, our daughter told her mom that her eye is hurting her and if this a sign that she is going to die. My wife politely explained her that this is not the case. My daughter then asked if there are certain parts of the body that when they hurt mean she is going to die, and finally she said that she is afraid of death and she does not want to die.

2-3 days ago I had a discussion with my girl during playtime when she decided that one of her dolls is dead. I explained to her that if she (the doll) is dead, she'll never wake up again, and that is ok, because everybody eventually dies in the end, and this is the way of life.

Are those two events correlated? Was I too cynical? What should we do now?

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Just an aside: in English, we don't typically call a 4.5 year old 'baby', generally children stop being babies when they start moving around (thus becoming 'toddlers'). –  Benjol Nov 28 '11 at 11:44
Thanks a lot. Can you tell me at what age a toddler stops being called "toddler"? –  xpanta Nov 28 '11 at 13:55
Haha! Excellent question, and difficult to find an answer to (just try searching for 'toddler stop'!). Wikipedia seems to think 3 years old. –  Benjol Nov 28 '11 at 14:16
I don't want to die either. I'd say your little girl is perfectly normal. –  JSBձոգչ Nov 28 '11 at 14:29
No it is not a duplicate. I have read this thread before asking mine. My question is not only on how to talk about death. The main idea is the fact that my kid expressed the fact that she is afraid of death. Talking about death comes as a side effect. –  xpanta Nov 28 '11 at 19:55
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1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

What you should do?

I don't have a scientifically proven answer - I just can tell you my experience, as we already have had many of such conversations (even at an earlier age).

I think you should talk as open as possible (and necessary) about death to her and you should show her (if possible) that it makes no sense to be afraid of death as it is (partly) beyond your control.

Our son started with 3.5 years to worry about death, often stating that he does not want to die or that he does not want us (his parents) to die, as he does not want to be left "alone". (It began when he asked for his grand-grandparents which died some years ago and whom he saw (with himself as baby) on photos.)

He had some short phases where he was talking about that at least once or even several times a day. This was very very touching and difficult for me.

What to say? I told him that we'll take care of ourselves as good as possible and that I hope we'll all live for a very long time. He said he wanted us to die after him - then I told him that mostly the parents die when their kids are already quite old and have their own families and children, so I hope he'll understand that this is typically quite far away from now.

He also had phases where it seemed to be interesting or even fascinating for him to "make" something (mostly animals) "dead" - this stopped quickly, fortunately. I explained him that the smallest animals just like himself do want to live.

If the 2 events are correlated? Most probably: yes, but from your description it was your daughter who began making death a topic by letting her doll being dead.

  • Did you ask her first, if she knows what "being dead" means or was your explanation the instantaneous reaction to her play?
    (In the latter case I'd consider it a bit hard, but asking if the child understands the words it used and then explaining or adding - where necessary and considering the child's age and "maturity" - what it really means, is absolutely appropriate IMHO.)

  • Did she ever have experience with death before (dead animals, dead relatives or acquaintances)?

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Much thanks for your very good answer. Concerning the two bullets (a) It was my instantaneous reaction to her play. I can assure you that she didn't know what "being dead" means. She must have thought that "being dead" is similar to "being asleep" (b) She only had a minor experience with death before when a big wild bird attacked and decapitated our little yellow canary. Of course she wasn't there on the scene, but she learned afterwards what had happened. However, this took place last year. –  xpanta Nov 28 '11 at 12:56
@xpanta - if it was your instantaneous reaction, it might have been a bit too "hard". The canary might be a good example to explain, as he is not there anymore since his "accident". –  BBM Nov 28 '11 at 15:11
@xpanta I think BBM provided a very good answer. I just want to note that I don't think you were "too hard". If you said it with only 1 sentence and no further comments, then it would sound pretty cynical, but on the other hand it was also short and to the point, which is often a good way to answer. It's as a good starting point as any, I think. Anyway, the topic is one that requires several "talks" before it's clear. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Nov 28 '11 at 19:19
To be honest I also quoted Steve Jobs' comment about death on his speech at Stanford (2005) where he said that "death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new." :) –  xpanta Nov 28 '11 at 20:06
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