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Mommy Musings: Thoughts and Opinions, What Do You Think?

Twin Tuesday: How Do You Explain Death to Your Kids?


Let me start off by saying, this isn’t so much a “how to” post, this is more of a “I need some advice” post. You see, Sawyer is now almost three and he’s starting to ask questions I am just not sure how to answer.

It was last Tuesday and I was having a particularly stinky day (which is unusual for me). Jeff and I had gone to check out a promising rental lead that turned out to be a bust, and so he had to work late and my parents had to come early to watch the kids. So I was stuck alone until 10pm and we didn’t find a home. Tim’s got my coffee wrong and I just felt blue.

I didn’t even feel like walking the dogs that day, but I told myself to shake it off and so off we went. I had Jessie and Sawyer took Juno (as usual).

We were walking down one of our usual routes when Jessie dove under someone’s hedge. “Great!” I thought, “What garbage has she found now?”

But as a pulled her head back I was shocked to see fur in her mouth! “Drop it! Drop it!” I yelled and she dropped a rather large ground hog onto the side walk. I was stunned. I have never seen a ground hog in Toronto, not even working in wildlife rescue.

It was shaking on the cement, and I knew better than to touch an animal in pain. There were no tooth marks or blood so I half expected it to scamper off. But it didn’t. I could tell that look in its eye (I have seen it before), It was dying.

I cried and scolded Jessie, my brain frazzled (it all happened so fast) half forgetting Sawyer was standing there watching me.

I saw it stop breathing. I carefully picked up the poor thing to make sure it was dead and it voided its bowels. It was gone.

If you are not a regular reader, I am am avid animal lover. My pets are rescues, I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years, and I have done everything from bottle feed kittens to raccoons. So, naturally, I was devastated.

I laid the body back down in the bush, fighting back the tears. Then Sawyer looked at me and said, “it’s okay mommy. Someone is going to make it better and adopt it”. I didn’t know what to say so I just nodded and sighed “yes”.

What do you say to a two year old? I didn’t want to lie but I don’t think he’s old enough to understand death. I didn’t want to upset him either (even though he could tell I was upset).

We are not religious folk, although I think if we were it would have been easy to say he went to a wonderful place called Heaven. (In fact, I still might use that one). I suppose it’s also the context. I mean if it was a family member who died it would be a bit different.

I am now excited but a little afraid since reaching his third birthday means we are venturing into new territory. Once he is a little older at least I will be able to think back to ways I learned, but I don’t remember anything from when I was his age.

So, does anyone have any ideas about discussing difficult subjects with your kids? Are there any subjects I should be ready for so I am not caught off guard again? Particular books or websites you like? I’d appreciate the feedback, for me and anyone else who might be in a similar situation.


About Shannon

I am a university educated full-time working mother of four children. Proudly Canadian, I freeze my butt off along with my loving partner, two dogs and a cat. I hope you enjoy reading my posts as much as I love writing them, but if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all.


18 thoughts on “Twin Tuesday: How Do You Explain Death to Your Kids?

  1. We’re not particularly religious but I do tend to tell our children that each person has a soul and when they die, their soul goes up to heaven and their body stays here so we can say goodbye to them. I haven’t needed to explain what happens to the body yet though. I also tell them that if someone they love dies, a piece of their soul always stays in their heart and that as long as they remember the person, that part of their soul never really dies.

    I think with children they can cope with being told certain things as and when you think they are ready to learn them. Each child is different so it’s difficult to say when is the right time. Like everything else about parenting, just trust your instincts.

    Posted by Dawn Frazier | July 9, 2013, 3:15 pm
  2. I remember that happening to me when my daughter was little, but she was about 4 when we saw a dead bird on the way to school. I was honest and answered her questions, and did not go too far into detail. I basically let her guide me with questions and I answered them as best I could. We do say they have gone to heaven, and it seems to take away some of the finality of death, but that is a personal choice for sure!
    When she was 7 her great grandfather passed away, so she had to deal with death fairly early. With my son it’s sort of the same, he is four and I find if you listen to the questions they ask, you can gage what they are ready to hear.
    Hope this helps, best of luck!

    Posted by Momtactics | July 9, 2013, 3:15 pm
  3. I remember something similar happening to me when my daughter was about 4 we were heading to school, when we saw a dead bird. I was honest with her and answered any questions she had without going into too much detail. When she was 7 her great grandfather passed away so we had to deal with it head on. We do say they go to heaven as I find it takes some of the finality out of the death, but that is a very personal choice!
    As for my son who is 4 now I try to answer any questions he has as honestly as possible. I find with all things if they are old enough to ask the questions, they are probably old enough to have an age appropriate answer. I really take the lead from them and what they are asking. If they have more questions I answer and so on. I have found more often then not that they stop asking the questions when they have the info they are happy with.
    Best of luck!

    Posted by Momtactics | July 9, 2013, 3:21 pm
  4. Sorry, thought my first comment didn’t go through! Oh well double the advice, worded only slightly different!

    Posted by Momtactics | July 9, 2013, 3:32 pm
  5. I have four children from 22 to 11 years. Time has taught me not to over think. Children are not half as complicated as we make them out to be. Especially when they are small I believe in the “less is more” approach. They will come back and ask more questions if they want but too much information cannot be retracted.

    Posted by tric | July 9, 2013, 4:06 pm
  6. Mister Rogers has a book on the death of a pet that we got when my dog died and my son was three. Your son might move on pretty quickly and if he does that is okay. Follow your son’s lead. If he asks a question answer in age appropriate language. If he changes the subject that probably means he’s either moved on for he moment or doesn’t need to process any more right then and there. I think we project a lot of our adult discomfort and issues regarding death onto kids sometimes. Their understanding is sometimes less fraught as long as we give them a decent reference point. Don’t know if that helps… Hugs.

    Posted by momasteblog | July 9, 2013, 4:30 pm
    • Thanks! I do think I might be over thinking it. It’s just that it’s something I never thought about before (and I always like to be prepared). Luckily, as I had hoped, the whole situation is barely a memory now.

      Posted by Shannon | July 9, 2013, 10:15 pm
  7. With every question my child asks (regardless of their age) I just answer them honestly and the most politically correct I can. If he continues to ask more questions, I expand on the answer, but usually a simple answer and truthful answer is all that is needed. Just like a question about the human body parts. You don’t answer with made up names for body parts, but rather tell them the proper terminology. Don’t go into too much detail unless they seem like they need a larger answer. Also, the comment about you not being a religious family. Maybe you and your husband are not religious, but this is not something you decide for your children (IMHO). You should teach about God and other religions as the time comes, as your children should make that choice for themselves (regardless of what you believe). Good luck! 🙂

    Posted by Sarah | July 9, 2013, 7:13 pm
  8. Honesty is key I think but it is also new territory for us since my daughter is also three. We believe in heaven and we have had to explain the difference between our bodies and our souls. She seemed to understand that pretty well.

    Posted by Alyssa | July 9, 2013, 7:28 pm
  9. The Fall of Freddie the leaf is a well written book about death. Might be a bit abstract for a 2 year old, but down the road could be useful.

    Posted by organizednowplease | July 9, 2013, 11:23 pm
  10. My son is almost four, and recently our friend has had a death in the family, and our family friends’ cat died. I do explain heaven to him, as it is what I believe and it makes things easier. He is a sciency kid, so we do like to let him know what actually happened in terms of body, and in this case sickness. The most important thing for us has been reinforcement that we are there for him if he wants to talk or ask questions (which, he inevitably does!). Best wishes

    Posted by La Güera Pecosa | July 12, 2013, 9:52 pm

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