Monday, August 6, 2012

Discussing Death With A Three Year Old

Up until recently, we hadn’t had to discuss ‘death’ with Grace.  There was only one occasion earlier in the year when she found a baby dove which had fallen out of its nest.  Its lifeless, barely feathered body was lying underneath the jasmine bush just by our back door and she was rather puzzled by what had happened. While I told her he had ‘died’ and we lovingly buried him in the garden under the lily-pilly, I don’t think she really understood that poor little bird’s fate.

Then a few weeks back, the topic of death came up as we were watching the movie Finding Nemo.  Up until now, Grace didn’t seem to realise that the two fish at the beginning of the movie were Nemo’s dad and mum.  She thought they were the dad and Nemo himself.  That week, she clicked on. 

“I think that’s the mummy and daddy Nemo,” she told me. 
As the scene where the nasty swordfish swoops in finished, a scene where the viewer can assume the mother fish and the fish eggs have been eaten, Grace asked, “Where has the mummy one gone?” 
I tried to avoid having to explain things further with an “I’m not sure” but Grace wasn’t convinced.  “But I saw the mummy one just then,” she said, “she was there, where is she now?  Nemo needs his daddy AND his mummy.” 
We talked about the possibility that the mother fish had been eaten.  I told her not everyone was lucky enough to have a mummy and a daddy to which she burst into tears exclaiming, “But I need a daddy AND a mummy… Mummy, are you going to die?”
I assured her there weren’t any swordfish in our house and I was staying put. 

Then a few weekends back, we stopped by the cemetery to put some flowers on Dad’s grave.  “This is a boring shop,” said Grace. 
“It’s not a shop,” I said, “it’s a cemetery, we’re putting flowers on Pop’s grave.” 
“Why?” came the response. 
I explained Pop had died because he had been very sick and had a bad heart.     
“Will you die Mummy?” she asked, clearly concerned again. 
I explained that Mummy was young and healthy and that she didn’t have to worry about me going anywhere. 
“But you were sick before,” she said, “You were coughing.’

We have conversations like this a lot lately.  It's hard to know how to answer at times or if I'm giving the right type of response.  Grace is at an age where she is so inquisitive and curious about the world and its workings.  Ours days are filled with endless ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ which are exhausting at times, but I love helping her learn and understand and wouldn’t have things any other way...

Photography by Chelsea Fuss of Frolic


  1. I suppose it's quite an abstract concept for children and natural that Grace would then get worried about losing you too. I must ask my sister if my niece Nicola has anything similar.
    Wishing you a lovely week x

  2. I often wonder how life's more philosophical aspects actually cement themselves for us. When and how does it happen? What is death? So many things! And yet somehow, even at Grace's young age, we manage to formulate a satisfactory answe for ourselves. I see from your pst that it is an awareness built from many experiences. x

  3. Yep, it was around the same age that Ella started linking all the dots and wanting to know more about death & life. She went through a stage of constantly bringing it up. She wanted to talk about Angels a lot, and where my Grandparents were! It's a hard topic to discuss as you want to be honest....but you still want to 'talk it down' as they're still so young & innocent, and don't want them to be fearing death right now too!

  4. Oh, what a sweetie Grace is! It must have brought you to tears seeing her so distressed about the thought of not having a daddy and a mummy. I'm sure that's a hard conversation to have, but it sounds like you answered her questions perfectly.

  5. That first scene in Nemo has always bugged scary
    All 3of my children have asked the death questions about this age....jack is far more persistent than the girls though...will never be fobbed off...always another why!

  6. It is difficult for little ones to understand such a complex issue. I think that you have handled these situations really well with Grace, at a level that she can understand at the moment.
    Miss 8 has a huge fear of death, that I would die. She would find it difficult to get to sleep at night but I kept talking her through it, explaining things and at her age she understands quite well. Thankfully she has settled down now. xx

  7. I tried to talk about it with Hugh this week too. This week marked the anniversery of Matt's mums death, and I was trying to explain about angels and all went over his head and got confused. We'll try again another day!

  8. Oh wow, all this is ahead of me! I guess I'll try to be as honest and straight-forward as I can be without freaking him out. (I remember always being so terrified of losing my mum or dad as a child). Or show him Bambi - that was one traumatic movie that doesn't gloss things over!

  9. Oh Amanda. What a thoughtful poppet Gracie is. You handled it really well. I love how she's connecting the dots. We've had so many of these conversations here over the past year, too. J x

  10. We have had a lot of these tricky questions lately. sam's grandmother passed away recently which triggered aila's fascination in the topic. I've been trying to answer simply and honestly, but it's tough terrain!

    rachel xo


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