For the last few weeks, my son has been asking lots of questions about death.
Who dies? When do they die? Why do they die?
He’s also really worried that it will happen to him – and soon – and keeps making the most heart-breaking comments:
I will miss my lego when I die; No one will know about us when we’ve died.
There haven’t been any deaths in the family and as far as I can think, there hasn’t been an event which has triggered this curiosity. Two family pets died early last year, but after being upset for a while, he dealt with those in quite a matter of fact way. This is different because he has started to understand that death comes to us all and is worrying about it. He’s a worry-wart anyway, my little man, but this seems to touch everything he does. Will he ever see his favourite teddy again? Will ants eat his fingers when he’s in the ground? It makes me cry just thinking about what must be spinning around in his mind.
Death is a fact of life and I’m not trying to shield him from that; I do think that sugar-coating facts and creating myths about the inevitable can actually cause more worry, but I just genuinely don’t know what to say.
I’ve explained about life-cycles. We’ve been talking a lot about spring recently, so this has been a gentle way to do it, but apart from that, what else can I say?
I don’t believe in God or that there is life after death although I’m not against Jasper believing that if he wants to. Each to their own afterall and I accept that faith can be a wonderful thing to have. In everything, we are teaching him to be open, to respect everyone’s beliefs and encouraging him to make up his own mind.
My dilemma is what to say when he asks if he’s going to die, or if we are. Because of course we are, everyone is. But a 4 year old doesn’t need to be worrying about the whys and wherefores. I’ve tried explaining that hopefully, we won’t die until we’re very, very old and so it isn’t something to be concerned about at the moment. But that doesn’t soothe him. To him, all adults around him are very old, so in his mind, everyone he loves is constantly on the run from the grim reaper.
Should I lie and tell him that no one is going to die to stop him worrying? Is it a phase he’ll grow out of as he begins to understand more about the complexities of life? Does anyone know any books for young children that might help with this?
Advice gratefully received.