My oldest daughter is not afraid of discussing anything, including death. But I’m not sure she fully understands what death means.
Day 1: “I’m going to kill you!”
4 year old wants another cookie.
Mama says: “Sorry, you already had 2 cookies.”
4 year old screams: “I want another cookie! I’m going to kill you!”
Mama calmly says: “Excuse me? Do you know what that means?”
4 year old looks confused, but still mad about not having another cookie.
Mama says: “It’s not nice to say you’re going to kill someone. When someone is dead it means their eyes are closed and their body does not move ever again. It’s very sad. It’s OK to be upset about something, but there are a lot of different ways to tell me you’re mad or frustrated with me.”
4 year old magically becomes calm and cheerfully says: ‘Yeah Mama, I can just say “Hey! I don’t like that. You’re making me mad!”
Day 2: “I’m going to kill myself!”
Mama: “What did you say?”
4 year old quietly says: “I’m going to kill myself.”
Mama: “It would make everyone very sad if you were dead. It’s not good.”
4 year old sheepishly says: “I didn’t say that. I said I’m going to kill my toys.”
Mama – not sure what to do with this situation: “I heard you say you are going to kill yourself.”
Then, Daddy walks in and calmly explains: “You’re not in trouble, but kill is a word we do not use because it’s a very bad thing to do. It’s a word Mama and Daddy do not say. You can say other things when you’re upset….”
<<conversation continues with all the different things we can do/say when upset or frustrated>>
At the start of this, my first reaction was to ask where she heard this word (ie. who is the bad influence?!), but then I realized these things are going to come up and I cannot control what every other kid says within earshot of my kids. I can only control how we respond and teach my daughter what is appropriate and give her other options.
Also, SUPER THANKFUL for my amazing and thoughtful husband because I really wasn’t sure where to go with the conversation once she said she wanted to kill herself. He had the good sense to discuss the word kill itself and how we do not use it.
The next week my 4 year old showed me how she used building blocks to make a pretend gun to only play and pretend fight with. She was clear it was only pretend and I could feel emotion rising in me again, “Where is this coming from?!” But, I remember playing cops & robbers when I was little and I wasn’t going to be a hypocrite. I wasn’t going to say she was in trouble. I praised her knowing it was only pretend. Then she deconstructed the toy gun to turn it into a reflex hammer you see in toy doctor’s kits and checked my knees. In a matter of seconds she went from toy gunslinger to a doctor… that’s the life of my 4 year old.