Dr Amanda Gummer, Play & Parenting Psychologist and founder of Fundamentally Children has been helping Mumsnetters with how to answer those awkward questions that children ask.
So today’s question is:
Why do people die? Where do they go?
Your answer to this will be heavily influenced by the age of the child, the circumstances surrounding the timing of question, their personal experiences and your own beliefs. If a child is suffering from grief, it is important to provide reassurance in the answer. Ultimately, honesty in many cases is the best policy. Younger children tend to take things literally so explaining that the family has ‘lost’ someone or he/she has ‘gone to sleep’ could lead to problems such as sleepness nights as the child will be afraid to fall asleep for fear of not waking. As children get older you can explain in more detail but using clear, simple and accurate details is recommended.
If it is just one of those questions, you can encourage children to be more philosophical and think about concepts such as the circle of life, overcrowding of the world and even issues such as quality v quantity of life with older children. Religious explanations aside, a child will benefit from hearing an adult acknowledge their own uncertainty. Encourage questions from your child but be honest if you are unsure of how to answer them. There’s no right or wrong answers. It is fine to say that no one really knows but lots of people have ideas that they believe and that it is ok to believe whatever you want to.
Young children don’t have a mature concept of the permanence and irreversibility of death so they need an explanation that they can relate to. The butterfly analogy works well – a caterpillar on the ground goes into a cocoon not having any idea that it’s about to grow wings and emerge from its sleep as a beautiful butterfly. This explanation can help take away the fear of dying that many children experience at some point.
A note from the Mumsnet Berkshire Local Editor: I hope I am not asked this question any time soon. The only thing I can really add to Amanda’s answer is to learn about the signs of grief in children if they have lost a loved one (be that a family member, friend or pet). For example, a change in behaviour (this could be many weeks or months after the initial bereavement), fascination with death, anxiety over certain things i.e. going to sleep, being ill etc. Please feel free to add your comments or email thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more awkward questions here:
Read Part One: Who is lying?
Read Part Two: Why do grown ups argue?
Read Part Three: What does the tooth fairy do with the teeth they collect?
Read Part Four: How do I explain that we can’t afford what their friends can afford?
Read Part Five: How does a baby get in Mummy’s tummy?
Read Part Six: My Friends say I am ugly. Is it true?