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How Do You Explain Death To A Child?


How do you explain death to a child?  It is a question that I have been asking myself lately after hearing the news of Robin Williams.

How Do You Explain Death To A Child? - The Rookie Dad

Image Courtesy of Flavor Wire

The other night when we were sitting down to dinner my phone started to explode, not literally but the ringing from it was constant.  Naturally, I have to check it and find out that Robin Williams died knowing that Mrs. Rookie Dad would be interested.  We both were shocked by the news but little did we know that the Kid would be too.

The Kid, for those of you who don’t know, is named William.   I just chose to use the Kid as his name on this blog.  After making the announcement at dinner, William’s face immediately turns from a jubilant 3-year-old to heartbroken child.

“You mean I died?”  He said.

Mrs. Rookie Dad and I look at each other shocked that the Kid made an immediate connection to the death of Robin Williams, all because of a name.

We tried to explain that it was someone else, someone that Mrs. Rookie Dad and I used to watch on TV all the time.  This just made the situation even worse in the eyes of the Kid.

“Bad guys killed him didn’t they?”

“We don’t know that yet but I don’t think they did.” (We now know the most of the story)

“But only bad guys make people die.”

“Yes you are right, but sometimes people die from other reasons.  That happens.”

I will be the first to admit that the death of Robin Williams hit me hard.  It hit me harder than any other celebrity death.  This exchange with the Kid didn’t help things.   I could tell just how much he was identifying with the loss.  How do you explain to a child that death happens and is a natural part of life?

It wasn’t but five minutes after we had finished eating that he forgot the conversation and was asking me to play cars with him.  As I am racing cars with him I couldn’t help but wonder how this will affect the Kid.  Will he ask about it later? Will he ask if the bad guys that killed that one guy were caught?

On one hand I am glad to know that he understands the difference between good and bad guys.  On the other hand, I want him to know that death is a natural part of life.  Maybe I am expecting him to grow up to quickly.

I don’t know if I am ready to answer the tough questions that parenting has to bring me.  While explaining that bad guys aren’t the only reason people die isn’t that tough of a question, it was a sign of what is to come.  A sign that I am not ready for.

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About The Rookie Dad

I am husband and father foremost. Secondly, I am a PBS producer and contribute to Traveling Dads and Dads Round Table.

Posted on August 18, 2014, in Parenting and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Adam at the ripe old age of 3 1/2 has been to 5 funerals I can recall (I try not to keep track of these things). I have never sheltered him from death because it is a fact of life.

    So much can be learned from death as empathy, feeling and emotions.

    As he gets older I have just taken a matter of fact point to it and answer questions as they come up.

    You’ll find the death questions easier to answer as they come.

    There is also a book called “How to say it to kids” Which will tell you different angles of talking these things through with them.

  2. My brother died very suddenly when we were on a family holiday and had to explain it to my 3 1/2 year old daughter (my son was only 6 months old and didnt know what was going on). She didnt know my brother very well but had to sit through a couple of days in hospital straight from the beach and then the funeral and over 1,000 people coming to visit.

    Believing in reincarnation or the soul living on made some of the explaining easier. I basically explained to her that just as you throw a shoe away when it gets too old or broken, the Achachen had thrown away his body because it stopped working..

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. He is still at the age where he doesn’t quite understand but soon he will be. Just understanding the difference between being killed/murder and death for another reason this is difficult. He associates death with being killed.

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