What happens when you die {according to my 4-year-old} | Life | Kylie Purtell - Capturing Life

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

What happens when you die {according to my 4-year-old} | Life

The other day the girls and I were in the car when Punky suddenly said from the back seat

"Mummy, people don't like dying."

I was a bit surprised by this conversational tidbit, as we hadn't been talking about death or anything even remotely close to it. So I asked her why she thought people didn't like dying.

"Because they are hurt."

That sounded like a fairly logical conclusion for a four-year-old to come to, so I asked her if she knew what happens when a person dies.

"You fall down, and then someone has to pick you up and put you in bed, and then you need a magical kiss."


Aside from making it abundantly clear that the Disney indoctrination is strong in our household, it started me wondering about how young kids learn about death and dying and how they process it in their minds.

Well, I started wondering after I finished wetting myself laughing!

It seems Punky has suddenly become aware of the concepts of death and dying. I'm not sure when it happened, or how long she'd been thinking about it before saying anything to me. Since then I've heard her talk about people being dead more than a few times while playing with her toys or talking to Zee.

For instance, two nights ago the girls were walking around the house trying to find these little toy birds that they have. They found Zee's in the kitchen, and Zee asked Punky if she knew where her bird was. Punky replied

"I think he might be dead."

Last night they were playing with their dolls and while sitting at my desk I heard Punky tell Zee that Cinderella was dying. It's obviously something she's been thinking about for a while, and incorporating it in to her play is her way of working out what it's all about.

Yet another reason why I'm a firm believer in allowing as much free, unstructured play time as possible. Free play and make believe is how kids learn and process the world around them.

How do you explain death to a preschooler?


I wonder if it's something I should be talking to her about or if I should leave her to play it out on her own and wait for her to bring it up and ask questions. I'm not sure if she actually understands what dying and being dead actually means, or if it's still too abstract a concept for her to grasp.

In most Disney movies the parents of the characters are usually dead or die (what is up with that, seriously!) but I don't think she quite gets what that means in a real-world situation. She's very aware that TV is make believe and not real, so I wonder if she thinks dying is only make believe as well.

We've spoken about things being dead when a millipede she's been "looking after" dies, or the flower she picked two days before gets thrown out because it's dead. Thankfully we haven't had to deal with the death of someone close to her because honestly, I just wouldn't know where to begin. How do you explain death to a preschooler without scaring them or making them worry?

I was curious to see how others have handled this new development, and I found a great article on Baby Centre called 'How to talk to your preschooler about death'. The article is mostly focused on talking about death after a loved one or pet has died, but the very first tip was just what I was looking for...
"It's normal for your preschooler to be curious about death, even if she hasn't yet lost a loved one. In fact, less emotionally fraught times are good opportunities for laying groundwork that will help your child cope when she does lose someone.
Answer her questions about death, and don't be afraid to read stories about children whose pets or grandparents die."

I like to be open with Punky when she asks me questions about things. For instance, I'm pretty sure she knows way more about the human body and how babies are born and where they come from than most kids her age. I'm not shy and awkward about discussing those things when she asks, because I don't want her to be uncomfortable or think that it's an inappropriate thing to ask me about. I also don't shy away from using the correct terms for anatomy and what-not, and I don't want to dampen her four-year-old curiosity (even if I sometimes wish she wouldn't ask me "why" 50 million times a day!).

For now I think I'll just follow her lead and answer her questions about death and dying as they come up. I'll do a bit more reading about how to answer the questions kids ask about death so I'm prepared for any circumstance.

When did your kids first become aware of death? How did you explain and talk to them about it?

P.S. I just want to say a big 'hi' to those of you who may have popped by to check me out as the temporary host of IBOT from next week, while Essentially Jess has a well-earned break. I'm super-excited to be helping out and I promise to do my best to fill the very big and amazing shoes Jess has entrusted to my care.


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