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My 7-year-old daughter is a big Star Wars fan and has loved Princess Leia through all of the movies she has appeared in.

In discussing it with her, she already knows that the woman who played Princess Leia died recently. But I'm concerned that she is still not old enough to really grasp death (having never really dealt with a death in the family yet). She seems to grasp the concept of death at some level in some discussions we have had. But we are worried that Carrie Fisher's future appearance in Star Wars Episode VIII 11 months from now is going to confuse her.

Is there anything I should do to help address this with her preemptively, or is this something I should just wait for her to ask questions? And if I should address it with her, is there any specific method I should follow?

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    As for the future appearance in a movie, you can simply explain how movies are made and that after the actual filming a lot of post-processing needs to be done before the movie hits the cimemas. – Stephie Jan 15 '17 at 6:42
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    And the stories happened a long long time ago... (Sorry) :-) – Rory Alsop Jan 15 '17 at 21:11
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This is a good age to start an ongoing discussion of death. If you're fearful of doing so, she will pick up on the negative emotions (aside from bereavement) surrounding the topic, which would be unfortunate. The desire to protect a child from the subject is understandable, though.

Children begin to understand death around 4 years of age, but have a lot of misconceptions, most notably about the permanence of it. Your daughter, however, is at an age where her questions about death should be answered honestly, taking your cues from her. She may have lots of questions, or she may have few. Again, like most subjects parents are hesitant to discuss with kids, take your lead from her. Concepts to anticipate and prepare for are elucidated below.

There are 4 components relative to children's understanding of death: (a) the irreversibility factor, (b) finality, (c) inevitability, and (d) causality. These 4 components relate directly to the developmental level of the child at the time the death occurs.

This is a useful article on ways to approach the discussion with different age groups.

At your daughter's age, she may believe that death only happens to older people. There's no reason to disabuse her of this belief if she isn't ready to hear otherwise, but don't mislead her. If she asks if she can die, answer honestly: that every living thing- including people- die, but it's uncommon for someone her age to die.

"Children over the age of 7 or 8 understand the concept of death cognitively but may believe only the elderly or very sick will die (Webb, 2011). Older children are more able to talk about their grief than younger children but still need simple, concrete explanations, reassurance from those around them, factually accurate answers to their questions, and help from surrounding adults to find the words to describe their feelings (Goldman, 2004; Moody & Moody, 1991; Willis, 2002)."

Be open to all her questions. If she's confused when she sees the next episode, it's just time to extend the discussion.

The Grieving Process in Children: Strategies for Understanding, Educating, and Reconciling Children's Perceptions of Death

Overcoming Obstacles: Exploring the Use of Adventure Based Counseling in Youth Grief Camps

  • The permanence aspect is mostly what I'm concerned about since she hasn't really experienced death. Maybe I'm just over thinking it but i was worried about her getting confused with a new movie coming out with a woman who she knew died. But this is all very helpful, thank you – psubsee2003 Jan 15 '17 at 16:47
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I think you are overestimating the "confusion" that will occur. My guess is that if you don't bring it up with concern, she won't either. But if it's an issue at all, try:

"Movies are really complicated and take a long time to make. Especially movies like Star Wars, where the special effects are only done after the actors have already finished filming their parts. So by the time you see a movie in the theater or on video, it's been many months, maybe even a year or two, since the actors did their part. Between the time they filmed the movie and when you watch it, an actor may change their hair color and look very different, or they may have a baby, and every once in a while, an actor may die in real life before you actually get to see the film that they had already made before they died."

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Adults over complicate things. Its a non-issue unless you make it one.

My son is the same age. His early pets were a jumping spider (life expectancy 2 years) and a praying mantis (life expectancy 6 months), so he is familiar with death. He still grieves for the critters, but wisely selected a cat for his current pet. My family is involved in video production, so he is very familiar with the process from studio through post production to product delivery.

Knowing that the actress that played Princess Leia is dead, but she is still appearing in videos, all he registered was sympathy and a bit of sadness before he grabbed his lightsaber and dressed up as Kylo Ren for a video shoot of his own.

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A 7 year old can easily understand this kind of concept. You can simply tell her that the film has already been made, before the actor died. I don't see why this would cause any confusion.

Having said that, if you think your child is too young to even understand a concept like death, are you sure she is old enough to be watching Star Wars films?

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I was introduced to death at the very early age of 5 with the death of my grandfather. I barely knew him because of my immature age, yet I was aware of the great commotion surrounding his death. I distinctly remember the night my parents went to his funeral as I peered out the front door as they drove away. It was a cold, northern, winter night.

About 2 or 3 years later, I was again confronted with death by the loss of my beloved cat. I found him as a stray during the winter. That following summer, my neighbor accidentally ran over him with his truck. I was devastated. I knew what death meant. I knew it was absolutely, irretrievably permanent even at that age.

At some point in life, each of us comes to accept death and many of us, like myself, come to fear the passings of loved ones much, much more than we fear our own.

My advice is to introduce your daughter to the concept of death now. It's better to learn from you than her own peers. Introduce her to the idea that it happens to everyone and everything because it's part of nature. Let her know there is nothing to fear in death itself because it's a transition from point A to point B that we don't fully understand. Whatever you do, don't tell her about the various, horrible ways we can make that transition. That's the REAL problem and the harshness of life will be her teacher in that regard. All she has to do is watch the 24 hour news cycle...or have an unfortunate pet like I did.

ANSWER:

If the only way your daughter has experienced death is via a fictional character who has been reanimated by Hollywood, then I'll wager she has very little understanding of death. If she believes that dead people can come back to life, now might be a good time to pre-empt the harshness of real life so that it might be easier for her to handle actual death down the road. Talk to her about how Star Wars is fiction and that Leia couldn't be brought back to life.

  • This really doesn't address my question -- this isn't about the concept of death, but the confusion around knowing she died then seeing her on a new movie 11 months later. – psubsee2003 Jan 15 '17 at 16:35
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    @psubsee2003 Please see my edit. – Inquisitive Jan 15 '17 at 16:49
  • @psubsee2003 A normal 7 year old would not be confused by such a concept. To simply say the film was completed before the actor died should be explanation enough. – user1751825 Jan 17 '17 at 23:02

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