Did you know that Orion was the most beautiful man in the world? Here’s a link to his story – a personal favorite of mine.
How can I talk about death without freaking out my kids? First up, I don’t start the conversation. However, I don’t avoid it either.
There is a split between older (4-6 years old) and younger preschoolers (2-3 years old) and my approach differs between the kids, as well as how they are feeling when they bring up mortality.
My first conversation about death with my son (2.75 years old) started when he picked up a line that stuck in his head, “David’s Daddy Died.” At two, death doesn’t have meaning and I don’t want him to get locked onto thinking that mom/dad might disappear on him.
From an early age, we’ve taught him that “we will be coming back” when we leave him. Indeed, a key milestone of childhood development is the ability to self-comfort when separate from our parents for 1, 3, 5 and 7 hours. We started this process, gradually, with all our kids as soon as possible.
Axel’s nature means that he experiences less separation anxiety than our other kids. Still, he looked to me for an explanation about “David’s Daddy Died.” Here’s what I do each time…
- I go down on one knee
- I look him in the eyes
- I open my arms for a hug
- I say, “YOUR Daddy’s right here”
- I give him a huge hug
Sometimes it takes a couple repeats of… “Your Daddy’s right here” but it always works to bring him to the present, give him reassurance and shift us back to whatever we were doing.
With a 4-6 year old, the conversation is different. My oldest understands death and can have questions about it. She remembers her great-grandmother (who died on this day one year ago) and has asked me about it.
- What’s death – your body stops working
- Is she coming back – no, her body is finished
- Is it like sleeping – no, it’s different
- Daddy, are you going to die – Sweetie, everything ends
- How long until you die – likely more than 40 years
And the biggie… Daddy, where will you be when you die?
- Once again, I look her in the eyes
- Put my hand over her heart
- And say, “I will always be with you. Even when I’m not with you, just close your eyes and you will feel me in your heart.”
I then choose a person – perhaps my grandmother, or her mother – and we both put our hands on our hearts and think about that person. “See you can feel the person, even when they aren’t in the room. That’s where you go.”
When they get a little older, I’ll teach them how to spot Orion in the sky and share that he was the most beautiful man in the world.
When they see Orion, I’ll tell them to always remember that I love them.
See me beautiful.