Posted by: caty | 2009/08/11

how to explain death to a 5yr old

hi, my daughter is 5 and doesnot understand what death is, she says she' s going to marry Micheal Jacson and when i told her that she can' t cause he' s passed away, and then i tell her that they digged up a whole and barried him there and she says she' l dig him out and pour water on his face then he' l wake up, but i tried explaining to her that u cant wake a person thats dead because they hv gone to haeven and she' l ask q' s like how came u can still c them if they hv gone to heaven, and y ppl die, and so on and on, now i dont know how to answer her q' s anymore cause every answer if folowed by a Q, so how do i explain death to her or should i?

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Our expert says:
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There are a number of really good books around about this, one of the first was by my old friend Rabbi Earl Grollman. How children understand death vaies with age. Early on they see life as about moving, and death is when you stop moving. So smoke and trees may seem alive. Then they may see it as temporary and reversible.
It's worth as a start asking the child what SHE thinks death is, and then correcting the miscvonceptions very gently.
In the example you quote, you presumably need to also discuss why, even if he were fully alive, she would never marry Michael Jackson, and help her distinguish between what she thinks she'd like to do and what she could actually do.
You can then discuss MJ's death gently, too --- that it is NOT reversible, and not like going to sleep ( that's a bad explanation some parents use, which often simply results in a child becoming scaedc to go to sleep ) -- that it is when he and his body are so sick that it can't carry on working, and that he cannot wake up again.
Follow her questions. She needs to explore the fact that she can only see MJ in pictures and films which were recorded while he was alive, and there is no longer any real and living MJ she could go and see anywhere.
Its a good sign of a lively and intelligent mind that the child follows each response with a further question.
I think one of the main reasons we as adults find it hard to talk with children about death, and even about sex, is that we are not sure of the answers ourselves.
Its worth while talking about these topics with your children, because you don't have any choice in which they would not think about them and discuss this with other people, including other children who might give them very unhelpful ideas. Unless a child knows that ANYTHING can be discussed with mom and dad, they fall prey to being misled and frightened or exploited by others.

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Our users say:
Posted by: Susie | 2009/08/11

Very interesting answer from CS. Adults in my life took the easy way out and told me (I was almost 5) that my mommy had gone to heaven to be an angle and that the brightest star in the sky was her watching over me each night. I don' t remember, but I don' t think I asked any questions. Might explain why my shrink said I suffer from seperation anxiety today.....

I am happy that your little girl has a lot of questions on the subject of death.

Reply to Susie

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