Discussing Death With a Toddler Can Be Confusing

toddlers and deathAs a mom, I try to be ahead of the curve. I'm looking forward to talking to my kids about the birds and the bees well before they're actually engaged. Did I just say looking forward? Maybe it's more like, trying to get it out there before they pick up bad information elsewhere. So we started talking about death before either child actually had a personal experience with it, that they could relate to, anyway.

Sadly, my husband's uncle passed away this last weekend and now we're in the middle of a discussion about someone they know. Someone they loved, and just saw a few months ago when we visited him in San Francisco. When we sat down our kids to let them know Uncle Al was gone, it didn't quite go as I expected.


We have the books already read, to help our kids understand the sadness associated with losing someone. Which may be why neither of them fell apart. Or it may just be, as the experts say, because they really don't understand what the heck is going on yet. My pre-schooler is a bit fixated on going to the funeral, and my two-year-old is only aware that his dad seems sad. Turns out, this is pretty normal. (Except the funeral part, not sure about that one.)

Very young kids, ages birth to three can only comprehend that their caretaker is upset. If a parent is not doing very well, the baby or toddler won't either. Even older kids, up to age six, don't fully understand that death is permanent. They sometimes think they'll see the person again, or if they do something they can make him come back. Which may explain the funeral reaction my daughter had.

Regardless of how much your child understands, the important thing is to try and maintain a healthy environment. It can be especially difficult when you're in mourning, but your kids will be better off if it's possible. I know, easier said than done. But keeping it together for your kids can be your daytime routine, and look to other adults for support after the kids go to bed.

How do you explain death to your child? 

Image via xlordashx/Flickr

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