A Halloween Special: The Concept of Death

It’s the time of year of goblins, ghosts and horror movies and it got me thinking — how do we explain the concept of death to our children?

1. What age is the best time to explain it?

Age isn’t the issue, opportunity is. I told a friend that before she gives her son a goldfish for a pet, she better prepare herself to explain the concept of death because, truth be told, fish have a short lifespan as far as pets go.

2. What should we say?

When death happens in a family, the age old question usually arises “Where will grandma go when she dies?”.  And the usual answer is.. all together now.. “She’s going to heaven.” and the explanation stops there.

First of all, the concept of heaven or what happens to us when we die is anchored on the spiritual belief of the family. It may be the usual answer but the family should have a clear picture of what heaven is before the answer is given to a child.

3. How does it affect the socio-emotional domain of a child?

Death is a reality in life. However, media sometimes depicts death as an ingredient for horror movies and equates it to something scary. Coffins are major props to a scary film and cemeteries become the setting for them. So it’s not surprising that a child feels fear during a wake or a funeral rather than sadness because of the loss of a loved one.

Since it is a reality, it should be explained as a stage in life. Whatever beliefs the family has about it, like sex (oh don’t get me started on that.. probably on the next post), death should be discussed and not swept under the rug. The more a child gets answers from his parents, the less he would depend on media and other people.

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2 thoughts on “A Halloween Special: The Concept of Death

  1. I was surprised at how easily my kids would say something like ‘the ant/spider/mosquito is dead’, I wasn’t sure if I had to be more delicate about the topic. At 5 and 3, they don’t exactly grasp the concept of death. Unfortunately I think it will only happen when they actually experience it with someone they actually know or a pet like you say.

    I do agree that it has to be tied in with the spiritual or religious beliefs of the family. This is kinda tricky for families like mine that aren’t very religious in the traditional sense and don’t plan on raising our kids by the book when it comes to religion.

  2. In a sit-in class, I once watched a teacher telling a story to very young children about accepting death of a loved-one, I forgot the title of the book but it’s written by Tomie de Paola as far as I can remember because the teacher asked the students to repeat who wrote that book and wrote it on the board although the students cannot read yet. The kids were very attentive.

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