Recently, we experienced some “circle of life” events, namely death. (I’m telling you, Disney’s The Lion King helped take care of a lot of this conversation well before I even had to think about it, thank you Simba and Mufasa!)
I have always been really up front and factual with my kids about subjects considered uncomfortable or taboo. They know where babies come from, they know I pushed them out of my vagina, and they know what a period is and what tampons are used for. I have explained when Mama does not have a baby growing in my womb, every month I bleed from my vagina and a tampon keeps the blood from spilling onto Mama’s underwear.
I pride myself on being honest with them and they take this information in without any issue. This is just a part of life, the same way they know dinosaurs are extinct and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty is not real. (Actually, they think tampons are like toys and want to carry them around the house.)
Explaining the death of an adult to my young child
We recently experienced the death of a dear friend and I needed to tell my 4 year old about it. This close friend has been present for every single one of her birthdays, he’s been a part of my daughters’ lives before they were even a twinkle in my eye! She knew our friend was ill and in the hospital, but when he passed, I wasn’t sure what to say. I went back to the facts and said he didn’t get better after being in the hospital, his body stopped working and he was dead. She had some follow-up questions:
4 year old: What happened?
Mama: When you die you close your eyes and your body never moves again. Never ever. It’s like you are asleep, but you’ll never wake up again.
4 year old: Will I see him again?
Mama: No, you will not see him again.
4 year old: Where did he go?
Mama: People usually put their bodies in the ground after they die. Some people believe you go to heaven when you die. Even though this body will never move again, I believe (placing my hand on her chest) the part that makes you special, what makes you you lives on and never dies. It could even come back in another body (now I’m introducing my personal belief of having a soul and the possibility of reincarnation – which is my parental discretion).
4 year old: Mama, when I’m a grown-up, will you teach me to drive your car?
Mama <<slightly bewildered by the non-sequitur>>: Yes, Baby. Why do you want to drive my car?
4 year old: So I can drive to heaven.
Mama <<a-ha moment>>: Of course Baby.
The book by Marc Brown, “When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death” was incredibly helpful and age appropriate.
Death of a baby
My best friend lost her baby during her pregnancy. It was tragic and heartbreaking. I needed to explain what happened to my daughter because she knew about the pregnancy and I do not like the idea of lying to my daughter and inadvertently making her question her own sanity by saying there never was any baby and her memory is incorrect. So, again, I kept to the facts.
Mama: Do you remember Auntie had a baby in her belly?
4 year old: Yes.
Mama: The baby wasn’t strong enough to keep growing, so it died.
4 year old <<surprised look>>: What happened to her boy?! (Referencing her 4 year old son)
Mama: Oh, he’s still alive. He’s totally fine.
4 year old <<looking relieved, then sad>>: I want to make a card for Auntie. I want it to say, I’m sorry your baby isn’t here anymore, but I’m really happy your son is still here. Draw a picture of a baby on the front.
As instructed, I drew a picture of a pink cartoon baby swaddled on the front. I was honestly really nervous to give the card to my bestie because she was feeling super raw and recovering physically, mentally and emotionally from the loss, but she cherishes the card.
Even in the darkest moments, you can find comfort in the sweet, innocent and heartfelt message about life and love from a little girl.