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Question
Posted by: Lin | 2008/10/01

Toddler asking about grandpa

My " baby"  boy will turn 3 in December. This morning he asked me where his other granddad is? My husband' s father - he passed away when hubby was a teenager.

Now, my son doesn' t understand the concept of death yet. And trying to explain that his granddad is with Jesus, isn' t working either.

How do I explain it to him?

Thanks for your rime.

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Our expert says:
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Its worth trying to get clearer what exactly he is asking. I recall the anxious mom when her 4 year-old asked her "Mommy, where did I come from ?" after a couple of sweaty days preparing, she say him down for The Talk, with diagrams and anatomically accurate dolls, and gave him the complete birds and bees from A to Z. After a pause, he thanked her, and repeated his actual question. "But Mommy, where did I come from ? Was it Joburg or Durban ? The boy next door says he came from Cape Town."
The point is , the question being asked might not be the one you are anticipating. As you recognize, discussion needs to be age appropriate, and to respond to the actual question. Children's concepts of death develop rather slowly over time. At first it's more about not moving, with life representing movement --- so smoke seems alive, and a sleey dog might not seem as alive. Then the idea may be that it's about not moving for a long time, but not about this being permanent , so they may seem to grasp that grandpa's dead, but after a while wonder why he doesn't come to tea any more.
It sounds as though he is thinking ( kids are often very literal and logical ) that there's someone missing, when he asks about his "other grandad" --- presumably there's the usual pair of grandmas, but only one grandpa, so he wonders what happened to the missing one. He may be satisfied to just be told that the other grandad died many years ago, and won't be coming back. IF he persists in asking what "died" means in this context, you can ask him if he has any ideas about this, so as to ground your reply in his current understanding. Remember, thanks to TV, kids see hundreds or thousands of deaths even at a young age, while cartoons can be confusing as Wily Coyote gets killed dozens of times per episode, and keeps returning.

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