Jan 23, 2013

Explaining Death When Kids Are Too Little to Understand

For the second time this month my husband and I are trying to explain death to a chilld who is too little to understand. We are Christians and my kids know about Heaven, but I know that they don't truly get it yet. I'm not going to lie, earlier this month I glossed over 99.9% of the details since I didn't want to deal with it. But this week that was no an option for me, I had to put on my big girl panties and explain death to my child.

Almost four years ago a friend and former colleague of mine was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. For almost four years Stephine was included in our nightly family prayer time and we were happy to see her when we could. Every night each person picks someone to pray for. Isabella picked Stephine at least 50% of the time since she was old enough to talk.

We knew that Stephine's life on Earth was coming to an end and we tried to prepare ourselves and Isabella. We sent a card and my sweet little girl had me write that she was glad that Ms. Stephine had Jesus in her heart and that she was so proud of her for going to Heaven. Proud. I love that innocence! I wish I could have the faith of a child. The wait for the dreaded phone call began. It came a week later and I knew that I had to tell Isabella.

I also knew that she was too little to understand what I had to tell her. It was confirmed to me last night when she asked to pray for God to heal Stephine's body and make her all better. And so the conversation began all over again.

I can't seem to come up with the right way to explain death to her. I don't want to scare her by over sharing and making big dramatic statements. I've read a few articles and so far nothing is really helping us. Of course the fact this is so emotional for me makes it even harder. This is yet another moment in parenting that I wish kids came with an instruction booklet.

If you've been here before, how did you explain death to your kids? Do you even think they can get it at this age? Part of me just wants to remind her that Stephine is in Heaven now and leave it at that. Maybe some things are just easier left unexplained?


  1. My kids experienced the death of 3 beloved pets and 2 uncles before they were 6 and 8 years old. We were honest and we cried while telling them. We put it simply, no detail and just answered the questions they had for us. One uncle died from suicide and at the time we didn't explain that as I didn't think they could understand. Just last summer we participated in a walk for suicide prevention and there was a picture of their uncle on it and my oldest son questioned it. I knew he understood what suicide was so I told him what happened and why we didn't tell him before. They cried a little for each death, asked their questions and moved on. The questions were more difficult for us in our grief than it was for them. We lost our pets first so they understood that death meant never coming back and I think that was a good way for them to first experience death.

    1. Our dog died last year so I thought the finality of death was understood by her. I'm beginning to think it's not that she can't understand but that she's scared. Today her teacher was out sick and she flipped out thinking that she was going to die too. I forget how much kids feel but cannot express sometimes.

  2. I don't have an answer either. I had a hard enough time explaining the death of a cat to my boys.

    Thinking simplest is best at young ages though.

    I'm so sorry for your loss. xo

    1. Thank you. We lost our dog last year and that was easier since she was younger. It seems like we are at the age where she's old enough to understand yet not old enough to fully process it. I'm kinda right there with her.

  3. As horrible as it sounds, it can be better if children start understanding death at these earlier ages. It hurts a lot, but having to deal with death at this age lets them learn the coping skills they will need as they get older. My boys have had to deal with the deaths of their grandfather and aunt, who was the same age as me. Good Luck and my condolences on the loss of your friend.

  4. My father in law died one year ago today actually and I was just thinking about it. He lived local and we saw him weekly or more often.

    We explained that my 3 year old would not be seeing or playing with grandpa anymore because he had gotten (suddenly) sick and he now is up in heaven with Jesus. That she seemed to get.
    However, She did get confused when we said that grandpa wasnt sick anymore because Jesus healed him and he was with Jesus in Heaven ; she thought that if he was healed he should be able to come play.


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