Talking to Kids About Death

voices of your village Dec 10, 2020

You're listening to Voices of Your Village. This is episode 150. Today we're diving into how to talk to kids about death. We had a bunch of these questions coming up in our Facebook group, from animals to people and how to navigate this conversation. What's appropriate at different ages and stages So today, we're going to dive into that jazz. This is a topic that is often very heavy for adults and tends to not be as heavy for kids because they have a whole different social context around what death means both in the short-term and the long-term. You know, the long-term for us is totally different. Our cognitive function allows us to project and predict things down the road that we might not see this person, ways that this human may not be in our life going forward, that we had anticipated than being at or maybe just hadn't acknowledged that they might not be at. And so with kids that's not necessarily the case. Kids are more egocentric because they're designed to be and so it can be a very different experience for them. We're going to dive into how to talk to them about it, and what does it look like to prepare them and navigate these hard conversations. As well as what it looks like for them to witness our grief. I wanted to let you all know that we have an upcoming totally free webinar where we get to hang out live and chat about what self-regulation looks like for us as adults. We are getting so many questions about how to do this work. You know, like what does this look like for us when we're stressed out, when we're overwhelmed, to be able to show up with intention. So we're going to talk about adult self regulation and how to navigate that jazz. Whether it's heading into holidays, or tough conversations with family and setting boundaries. Or with kiddos, you know, navigating everyday life and the self regulation that comes along with that. Head on over to to sign up to come join us, totally free next week on Tuesday, December 15th from 7:30pm to 8:30pm eastern time. And if you can't make it live on Tuesday, but you sign up you'll get access to the replay. Head on over to sign up and join us for a conversation about how to do this work as adults and self-regulation so that we can show up with intention. All right folks, let's dive in.

Welcome to Voices of Your Village, a place where parents, caregivers, teachers and experts come to support one another on this wild ride of raising tiny humans. We combined decades of experience with the latest research to create the modern parenting village. Let's dive into honest conversation about real parenting challenges, so it doesn't have to be this hard. I'm your host, sleep consultant, child development specialist and passionate feminist, Alyssa Blask Campbell.
Death is one of those topics that for us as adults, we have a whole different context around than kids do. We cognitively understand that we won't see this human anymore and we attach so much meaning to that. For us that might mean they won't see my child take their first steps. Or they won't be there for my wedding day, or they won't be there when I am navigating another hard season and I love to turn to this person for support and so for us it's so much bigger than they won't be here. We attach so much more meaning to somebody dying. And for kids they don't necessarily attach that meaning. They haven't lived as long and so for them this person might play a different role. I like to stick to the facts with kiddos and how you navigate this from a spiritual or religious place will be totally unique to your family. But I also like to give kiddos the science. So letting them know, Grandpa is sick with something that we call cancer. And cancer is in some people's bodies and it can make them sick. And sometimes there's medicine that helps and sometimes there isn't medicine that helps. And Grandpa has one of the kinds of cancer that doesn't have medicine that helps. They won't take it away. And his body is going to die. And we don't really know when, but we know at some point his body is going to die. And when we see him, he might look a little different. He might look a little bit tired or he might move a little bit slower and then when he dies, we won't be able to see his body anymore. And we can always talk about him and remember him and think of things that we love doing with him and that bring us joy and you can always ask me questions. A lot of the times when people die, the people who don't die feel sad. They feel sad to say goodbye to that person and they won't get to see them. And so a lot of the times when somebody dies, people will cry and they might need a little bit of time to feel sad. When Grandpa does die you might notice that I am crying, or that I look really sad sometimes because I miss him. And then other times you might notice that I'm happy or excited when I'm thinking about something that makes me think of him. When I remember him and some fun things we used to do together. Sometimes that'll make me feel happy. What I want you to know is that it's okay for me or for other people to feel sad. It's okay if we don't feel happy all the time, and you don't have to fix it. You might say it looks like you feel sad. Would you like a hug and some people will say yes and some people might say no. When I feel sad sometimes I like to have a hug and sometimes I like to have space and go for a walk by myself or write in my journal or talk to somebody. When I'm feeling sad I have tools to help my body feel calm when I'm ready. You don't have to fix it. That's what I really want kids to know and we tend to see an uptick in interest in death around 4 years old. New York Times has a good article about this if you want to dive into that. One of my favorite books about death is "Where Do They Go?" And it really just acknowledges that like you can still remember them and sometimes maybe when the wind blows you might think of them or when there's a certain smell you might think of them. Acknowledging that there's a both/and, that you can feel sad and you can feel that comfort of remembering somebody. I think it's really important to continue to acknowledge that this person or this animal or whatever it is or whoever it is that died that we acknowledge them like oh, yeah. Do you remember when Scout used to run and jump and lick your face when you would come in the door? That was so funny. Sometimes it was really overwhelming because Scout would jump so much and sometimes I really loved it and when I think about it sometimes I miss it. And sometimes it just makes me smile and feel happy. You know just checking in and acknowledging and for some folks it might be a book where you have pictures and things to remember someone by. There's no right way to do this and a lot of it will come down to like what you practice spirituality wise or from a religious standpoint. But I love to give kids the science of what's happening in the body. I also think it's really important to let kiddos know that everybody dies. It's a part of being alive, is that you'll die someday. And that most people die when they get really old. Because often kids will come up with questions around like well, are you gonna die? Am I gonna die? Are my siblings going to die? And letting them know, Yes, someday everybody's going to die, but most likely not for a very long time. Most of the time people die when they get really old. And yeah, then you can brainstorm and I was with our cousins kiddo, he was three or four at the time and we were talking, he was asking me about death. And we were chatting about it a little bit and then we got to this place where there was this statue of a person who is dead and he said like Is that person alive? And I said nope that person died and then they made a statue of him to remember him. And he goes, Oh he died because he was really old like Nana and Grandpa? And I was like, Yep, you know what, Nana and Grandpa are probably the oldest people that are in your life. Most likely they will be the next people that will die. Right now their bodies seem to be healthy and it doesn't seem like they're going to die soon. And he was just like, Okay. You know, I think so much of this like we get so nervous about these conversations and for kids they'll take a lot at face value. And it's just like everything with kids not something where we have to have the conversation once and be done. We can come back, we can always be like, you know what I was thinking about that conversation we were talking about the other day with death and I'm just curious if you have any questions. I forgot to mention x, y and z. We can always come back to it if need be. Come on over to Instagram, come into our Facebook group and let's dive into some questions together. We are here to support you on this journey.
Thanks for tuning in to Voices of Your Village! Check out the show notes for this episode and all past episodes at Did you know that we have a special community for all of you to be a part of so that we can all gather together to raise emotionally intelligent humans? Head on over to Facebook, search Seed and Sew: Voices of Your Village and dive into that Facebook group. We cannot wait to hang out with you and collaborate on raising these tiny humans. If you're digging this podcast, head on over to Apple podcasts scroll down, click those stars and leave a review. It really fills my heart to hear from all of you.

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