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Explanation death to a five year old

(46 Posts)
Libman Wed 18-May-22 18:57:26

My granddaughter is five and has been talking about death recently. She is a very emotional, bright child ( aren’t they all?😉)None of us in the extended family have any religious beliefs so are finding it hard to offer her any comfort. Her father is against any mention of heaven. Can anyone offer any advice about how to discuss this with her please? She seems so frightened. We haven’t mentioned ‘ going to sleep’ in case that disturbs her even more.

Madgran77 Wed 18-May-22 19:33:24

The links below might be helpful to you.

www.childbereavementuk.org/explaining-death-and-dying-to-children

www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/understanding-grief/201701/talking-children-about-death

www.talkdeath.com/talking-to-children-about-death-guide-resources/

SueDonim Wed 18-May-22 19:44:48

My 4yo GD seems quite satisfied with simply knowing that a person just stops existing when they die. One of our cats died last year and that seems to have triggered an interest in death. She informed me this week that she’d only miss me a little bit if I died. So that’s nice! grin

BlueBelle Wed 18-May-22 19:45:00

My grandkids were 4 and 6 when their Daddy died it’s very hard but ‘Winstons wish’ was very helpful maybe they do booklets or online it was a while ago so there may be better info now
I think all you can do is answer things as honestly as possible as you can and make sure you all stay on the same page and if you don’t know the answers ( most of us don’t ) be honest about it that no one really knows
It is hard ….in hindsight we probably overdid the heaven bit and my grandson wanted to go there on holiday !! Find the answer to that one! there are funny moments though They lived overseas and when we flew back to U.K. as we went above the clouds my grandson very loudly said can we visit Daddy in heaven and a man in the seat behind loudly said I blxxxx hope not

MiniMoon Wed 18-May-22 19:54:52

My Dad had a lovely way of explaining death to my little sister who was distraught when our grandmother died.
He said that the human body is like a house for the soul. He asked her what you do with a broken old house that cannot be lived in any longer. Her answer was, that you demolish it to make way for a new one. He said that her grandma has gone away and left her old house as she doesn't need it any more. Being a Christian with a strong faith Dad told my sister that grandma's spirit was in heaven with all her family who had gone before.
You wouldn't need to say anything about heaven. My daughter prefers to talk about a happy, summer place where you pass on to after death.

Deedaa Wed 18-May-22 20:03:05

My two youngest grandson's must have been about this age when DH died. They seemed to accept that they wouldn't see him any more and I think we just said that no one's quite sure what happens or where you go.

Please don't talk about going to sleep. My mother once told me that dying was like going to sleep when I was about six and I was terrified of falling asleep for years afterwards.

V3ra Wed 18-May-22 20:36:57

A week after my Mum died a butterfly came and sat by me outside, walked onto the back of my hand and sat there for quite a while.
It was the day and time my Dad and sister were registering her death in another town.
So I always tell my granddaughter that Great Grandma has gone to be a butterfly. We both like that explanation 🦋

sukie Wed 18-May-22 21:37:55

You might take a look at reviews of the book "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf."

Libman Wed 18-May-22 22:20:24

BlueBelle

My grandkids were 4 and 6 when their Daddy died it’s very hard but ‘Winstons wish’ was very helpful maybe they do booklets or online it was a while ago so there may be better info now
I think all you can do is answer things as honestly as possible as you can and make sure you all stay on the same page and if you don’t know the answers ( most of us don’t ) be honest about it that no one really knows
It is hard ….in hindsight we probably overdid the heaven bit and my grandson wanted to go there on holiday !! Find the answer to that one! there are funny moments though They lived overseas and when we flew back to U.K. as we went above the clouds my grandson very loudly said can we visit Daddy in heaven and a man in the seat behind loudly said I blxxxx hope not

💙💙

Libman Wed 18-May-22 22:27:42

Thank you all for your responses. I’ll take a look at the links included. Hopefully this is just a passing interest and she will forget about it when she comes feels reassured. She is very anxious that she’ll be able to take all her bath toys and Barbies with her, wherever she’s going…….

Lizbethann55 Wed 18-May-22 23:01:06

I think it is very natural for children to be interested in death at that age. My DGD loves talking about her great granny, my mum,even though DGD was only a few weeks old when my mum died. Recently I said about Great Granny being in Heaven. " No she's not" said indignant DGD . I was wondering what heinous wrong doing my mum had been guilty of when DGD continued " her soul is in Heaven". I know your DGD's father may not want to talk of an after life, but the child may find that easier to accept and understand at this age than just stopping existing.

maddyone Thu 19-May-22 11:36:40

It’s tricky isn’t it? I do feel that honesty is the best way, and that the word die should be used. If people say passed or lost I think it muddies the waters. Children know and understand that flowers die, and animals die, so they have a limited concept of death. But they may be confused if different terms are used.

pandapatch Thu 19-May-22 11:38:49

This is a lovely book on the subject www.goodreads.com/book/show/501033.Badger_s_Parting_Gifts

Nannashirlz Thu 19-May-22 11:41:07

My kids were young when my dad died and a lady who lived near me was absolutely brilliant, she over heard my kids saying daddy said grandad as gone mummy is crying I don’t understand. She sat with them and said your grandad as gone on a journey to see his mum in the stars and mummy is sad because she didn’t get to say goodbye and so everytime you look up to the stars. Grandad will always be looking back at you. My lads took that and she said I know it wasn’t my place but I please she did because I couldn’t. She was a good friend after that. My sons learned more as got older.

Omaoma57 Thu 19-May-22 11:50:37

Hi just seen this post…we sadly had to explain death to our two GC when their father died…the hardest part was trying to explain cremation to them….just be honest in your emotions, facts and keep talking about the person…remember when conversation or I wonder what daddy would think of this….etc…it is hard but so important as its a big part of life!

Witzend Thu 19-May-22 11:52:29

I don’t believe in a heaven or an afterlife (I do sometimes wish I did) but would unhesitatingly tell a small child that X has gone to heaven, if it gave them comfort.

If you don’t yourself believe, I don’t see what’s wrong with telling a child that some people do believe, but nobody really knows for sure. I wonder whether that would be acceptable, OP?

A BiL died far too young when a niece was barely 7. My sister and BiL had both been firm atheists, so there was no (OK, hypocritical) comfort for a dreadfully sad little niece. Personally I would have let my principles go hang.

Going to heaven is what many of us older GNers were almost automatically told as children, but as we get older we decide for ourselves (one way or the other) what to believe.

OakDryad Thu 19-May-22 11:53:02

Several years ago now, I lost my dearest friend to a long illness. We had talked about death and mused on what happens to our energy after we die.

Energy can neither be created nor destroyed - only converted from one form of energy to another. Medical research has been carried out into what happens to the chakras, the energy centres we have in our bodies, as we die. Much has been written about this, accounting for how and why people report near death, out-of-body experiences. Essentially the energy leaves our body and dissolves into the air. Right now, scientists are looking at how to produce electricity from thin air using protein nanowires. These advances have been made since my friend’s death.

Our conversation was simpler and more fanciful. Over a few glasses of wine, we agreed that we’d like to become stars in the sky. Stars are energy. The sun is a star. It is the most important source of energy for life on Earth. It can be comforting to imagine someone we have loved and lost still radiating the energy they had in life.

I’m sure your grandchild is a ball of energy now. Maybe you could look at the stars together and conjure some stories about people we loved shining down on us. The word heaven means the transformation of chaos into order - from the Greek kosmos meaning ordered universe so maybe becoming a star is not such a far out idea after all and chimes with Nanashirlz story . smile

Moggycuddler Thu 19-May-22 12:19:57

I am an atheist, so never talked to my daughter about heaven or being with the angels etc. We said that the truth - that nobody really knows what happens when people, or animals, die. That people all over the world believe different things but that nobody really knows. That all we do know is that dying means a person is at peace and not hurting ever again. And that we always have our memories of them and can still talk to them in our hearts.

Heathcliff23 Thu 19-May-22 12:23:58

A really good booklet is Water Bugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney. It is a simplistic story of water bugs at the bottom of the pond who notice that some of their friends climbed up the stem of the pond lilies and were never seen again. They make a pact that if one of them decides to do that, they will come back and explain where they went. When it does happen to one of them, he discovers that when he reaches the surface he becomes a dragon fly. He later remembers his promise to his friends to go back and tell them what has happened but then realises he can no longer go into the water so decides his friends will have to wait until they became dragonflies so they will understand themselves what happens .

Sadly, many years ago, one of my teenage sons died. I used this book to try to explain to his younger sisters what had happened. He is still regularly talked about within the family and I now use the book to explain to my 5 year old granddaughter when she asks me questions about him. There are no religious mentions in the story itself but the last few pages do have prayers etc. I never use that part of the book and have removed the pages so it is just a story book.

LauraNorderr Thu 19-May-22 12:28:50

I really like that Mollycuddler, honest but sensitive

LauraNorderr Thu 19-May-22 12:31:11

flowers Heathcliff

Glorianny Thu 19-May-22 12:33:44

I think it's OK to tell a child that you don't know, that some people believe in heaven and some people believe in reincarnation and some people think it is a great adventure. That bodies wear out when they get very old or are sometimes damaged and don't work properly. We miss the person we loved very much but remember them and talk about them. My GD was very upset when her GGM died but she chose some little things to remember her and now we talk about her sometimes. I think it's a great mistake to think children need their adults to have all the answers.

bobbydog24 Thu 19-May-22 12:42:02

Many primary schools are CofE therefore children are taught that there is a heaven.
When my husband died, my 9 year old DGD said that was where he had gone and we, her family, went along with it. She often talks about her beloved GD, as they were very close and is happy in her knowledge that he is is in a special place.
As his widow, I would love to think there was a heaven and we would one day meet again. Who knows.

Bibbity Thu 19-May-22 12:52:08

I am an atheist and have had to have this chat. I absolutely would not allow anyone to state heaven as a fact.

I said X has died. We will never see them again and they will never be alive again.
This is very sad and we are all allowed to be unhappy.

We only get to live here that's why it's so important to enjoy the days we do have and to love the ones we love.

grandtanteJE65 Thu 19-May-22 13:05:19

Could you possibly persuade the child's father to ease up a little on his no talk about Heaven policy?

Whether you believe in an afterlife or not, the concept exists to make it easier to accept death.

The important thing is to tackle the little one's fear. Has anyone you know died recently, or has she just reached the stage of development where the reality of death dawns? Or has she been hearing too much about the war in the Ukraine?

Saying no-one really knows what happpens when we die is unlikely to make her less afraid, as after all, most of us are scared of the unknown.

I would suggest telling her that for some reason we do not really understand all life comes to an end. What happens when it does, we do not really know, but it could be the start of a great new adventure and that the people and things we love never leave us as long as we remember and love them.

Being told that death is the next great adventure made no real sense to the eleven year old Harry Potter, and will make less to your five year old granddaughter, but it might just be the most useful way of handling her fears.

As adults we know that most people are old when they die, but that young people can die too, but most children worry less if you simply say that neither she nor anyone else in the family is likely to die soon.

Obviously, you cannot say this, if some member of the family is already seriously ill, but that doesn't sound like the case.

If it is the war in Ukraine that is the reason for her fears, you need to assure her that there is no real likelihood of the war spreading to us.