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(trigger warning, mentions child loss) Talking to my 4yo about death

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#1 Lou-bags

Posted 14 June 2018 - 01:48 PM


Without wanting to go into too much detail, a little boy from my 4yo's kindy class has been in a very bad accident and is probably not going to make it.

How do I talk to him about the uncertainty while we hope for this child's recovery? And about death if the worst happens?
Do you know of any good resources?

This is a very sad day for our community and I'm just reeling with how to handle this. (I have contacted the school to offer my assistance to the family- which feels not particularly helpful, but at least it's something. I hope they have a good support network right now. Beyond awful).

Thanks for any suggestion you have.


#2 22Fruitmincepies

Posted 14 June 2018 - 01:59 PM

Oh how awful! I don’t have any ideas, I hope some others do. Don’t underestimate the effect on you as well - that sort of thing hitting so close to home can really shake you up. Fingers crossed for that little boy, and hugs to you and DS1.

#3 seayork2002

Posted 14 June 2018 - 02:16 PM

sadly our son's school has had 2 tragedies since he started, one very recently - I wait until my son mentions it then stick to the facts really, I am not saying what is right or wrong just what we do.

#4 rowd

Posted 14 June 2018 - 02:21 PM

My experience is only with my niece and nephew (6 and 4) when my daughter was sick and died - so not direct experience, but maybe this could help. My BIL and SIL were upfront with their children that my daughter was unwell, and explained in such a way that made them understand it wasn't 'usual', so they didn't think every one got sick and died. I know an accident is different, but perhaps you can word it that 'this little boy's heart/head (??) is very sick now, we are so grateful that your heart/whatever is so strong'.

If your child's wee friend does die, encourage him to draw a picture, write a note, tell a story etc about the boy (you could give this to the parents, if you wanted). Explain to him that it is OK to feel sad. Answer any questions and reinforce that this is not normal and he doesn't need to worry that other children are going to die. I know sadly that isn't necessarily true, but just some reassurance that if he hears someone else  is sick, it doesn't mean they will die too. My niece and nephew both came to see my daughter after she had died, and attended the funeral, which seems to have been helpful for them in understanding what had happened.

#5 Jenflea

Posted 14 June 2018 - 02:21 PM

I would say that he was in an accident and he was hurt so badly the doctors and nurses couldn't fix him and he died.

That's the truth(if it happens) and then I'd handle any questions as they came.

#6 ECsMum

Posted 14 June 2018 - 02:34 PM

as above - school advised us not to bring up unless the child mentions it.

#7 little lion

Posted 14 June 2018 - 02:36 PM

How sad. I would try to talk to my son about it once I knew an outcome, if possible. If he currently knows nothing, that is. I know my guys have been thinking thinking about illness and surgery etc. a lot recently due to our family circumstances. Having no definitive answers seems hard for them to understand, likewise the associated questions of what happens after death.

Rowd I’m sorry for the loss of your daughter, too. I like your suggestions and the way you’ve approached things with your niece and nephew.

#8 JK4

Posted 14 June 2018 - 02:52 PM

Try to use the words death and died. As adults we find these confronting and try to add comfort by using words like lost. For a child this can be confusing as many things get lost and they fear they will get lost as well (our this was our experience anyway).

#9 Fresh Start

Posted 14 June 2018 - 03:10 PM

View PostJenflea, on 14 June 2018 - 02:21 PM, said:

I would say that he was in an accident and he was hurt so badly the doctors and nurses couldn't fix him and he died.

That's the truth(if it happens) and then I'd handle any questions as they came.

I agree with this.

My kids were 4 and 2 when my mother’s cancer returned after 6 months remission and there was no fighting it - prognosis was a matter of weeks.

We just told them the truth - Nana was sick with cancer again and this time the doctors couldn’t help her get better so she was going to die.

They happened to be there when she died (we did try to take them out but circumstances conspired against us). E were just honest at an age appropriate level.

Also, the toddler brother of three students at our school was killed in an accident on their farm. The school told all parents on the day that they would be telling all the kids the next day.

Edited by Fresh Start, 14 June 2018 - 04:24 PM.

#10 wallofdodo

Posted 14 June 2018 - 03:15 PM

View PostECsMum, on 14 June 2018 - 02:34 PM, said:

as above - school advised us not to bring up unless the child mentions it.

I don't know about this. My son is one who will dwell on things and not discuss them. It is causing a lot of issues.

I think you should ask if they want to talk about it.

This is from dealing with 2 grand parent deaths.

ETA, I am sorry this has happened to you and your community.

Edited by wallofdodo, 14 June 2018 - 03:15 PM.

#11 Silly Old Elf

Posted 14 June 2018 - 03:44 PM

View Postwallofdodo, on 14 June 2018 - 03:15 PM, said:

I don't know about this. My son is one who will dwell on things and not discuss them. It is causing a lot of issues.

I think you should ask if they want to talk about it.

This is from dealing with 2 grand parent deaths.

ETA, I am sorry this has happened to you and your community.

I agree with this. It will depend on your child but my child would mull it over in their head for a long time.  She actually deals with things best through role play. This is how we often discover what is really worrying her.
I’m so sorry for your son’s friend and family x

#12 rosie28

Posted 14 June 2018 - 03:56 PM

View Postwallofdodo, on 14 June 2018 - 03:15 PM, said:

I don't know about this. My son is one who will dwell on things and not discuss them. It is causing a lot of issues.

I think you should ask if they want to talk about it.

This is from dealing with 2 grand parent deaths.

ETA, I am sorry this has happened to you and your community.

I wouldn’t wait until the child mentions it. I never mentioned the grade 6 boy who died when I was in grade 5 but it bothered me every day for years after the event and I still think about it. I’d bring it up gently and ask if they want to talk.

#13 Future-self

Posted 14 June 2018 - 04:12 PM

Oh Lou-bags, how awful.

A little boy from my DS's class died when DS was the same age. He was very sick in hospital for about two weeks and we all were hoping he would make it. I didn't tell DS until we knew the outcome and that he had died. We stuck to facts of him being very sick; he had been in hospital; the Drs couldn't fix him and he died. We then explained that meant that we couldn't see him again.
We aren't religious and so no heaven etc came into it for us.

DS was only just 4 then so honestly didn't talk too much about it and we didn't really raise it much. When DS would come home and say things like "Nicky wasn't there today" we'd have to gently remind him that Nicky had died so wouldn't be coming to School anymore. Like PP we use the words dead and dying. Not saying loss or passed - it confuses them.

TBH we light touched it. At the time our DD was in and out of Hospital all the time and we were concerned about scaring DS that Hospitals were about death when we were trying to reassure him- and her - that Hospital was where we went when we needed the Drs and medicine etc. It was hard.

#14 ~J_F~

Posted 14 June 2018 - 04:17 PM

The truth.

Kids deal with things so much better than adults tend to and they do better with age appropriate truth.

I also wouldn’t wait, I would take the time now to sit down and discuss where it’s at now and then further discussion as you have more info.

I am really sorry you and your child  have to deal with this and that this poor family has to go through losing a child.

#15 Mollycoddle

Posted 14 June 2018 - 04:46 PM

View Postwallofdodo, on 14 June 2018 - 03:15 PM, said:

I don't know about this. My son is one who will dwell on things and not discuss them. It is causing a lot of issues.

This is me too - rumours get around schools very quickly and can cause fear and distress, better to deal with it direct with your child.  We found out the hard way last year when a man hung himself from a tree bordering the school oval and kids discovered the body while walking home from school.  A letter came out the next day and counselling was offered, I addressed it directly with my kids (aged 6 and 9) as their father suicided so I knew if that word was bandied about it might affect them.  And yes, the kids were talking - you wouldn't believe some of the things that were being said in the playground among primary school kids.

Edited by Mollycoddle, 14 June 2018 - 04:47 PM.

#16 Lou-bags

Posted 14 June 2018 - 04:48 PM

Thank you everyone for your suggestions.

And rowd, I have probably said this before elsewhere but I am very sorry for your loss. Your family did a beautiful thing for your niece and nephew in the way you describe it was approached with them.

DS1 is very sensitive, and does dwell on things. He brings things up that happened a long time ago to talk over and over until he can move on from them. And even then. So not bringing it up until he asks is not a option. In the unlikely event that he doesn't bring it up, he will definitely be thinking about it.

I like the idea of a drawing and a story about the little boy for his family. DS1 doesn't talk about him much, so I don't think they are friends, but I'm sure they must have played together at some point. DS1 likes to make things for other people so it might be something we can do together while we talk about it.

We use the words death and died etc (his great nanna died late last year), I agree with you all that you need to be clear with children as they are very literal. I remember him recently overhearing someone talking about losing a loved one and he said "where? Where did they lose them?".

I'm actually a bit worried about how I'm going to be able to keep my own emotions in check enough to discuss this with him. My heart is broken for this family, another of their family members died in this accident, at the scene, and so they are grieving as well as dealing with a little boy in critical condition.

I just keep hoping that he defies the odds and recovers.

Edited by Lou-bags, 14 June 2018 - 04:50 PM.

#17 Etta

Posted 14 June 2018 - 04:50 PM

Depending on how open your DS is about his emotions you could explain that you are feeling sad today (when it happens) because the boy's family are feeling sad because the boy has died. Then he can choose to tell you he feels sad or he may not. When I was that age I doubt I would have felt very sad and that is okay too. But at least you will have modeled talking about emotions without any expectation that he will feel the same.

#18 rowd

Posted 14 June 2018 - 05:00 PM

Thank you Lou-bags. It sounds like an awful tragedy, I really feel for his family and all of you in the wider community - such a difficult time. Take care.

#19 PhillipaCrawford

Posted 14 June 2018 - 05:19 PM

i am really sorry this has happened.

This link to Maggie Dent may help  https://www.maggiede.../?s=death&cat=0

An absolutely brilliant book is Lifetimes by Robert Ingpen.

Rowd's ideas of the memory book/drawing is a really good one.
At this stage your son will not have an idea of the permanence of death so expect so expect to explain it several times and answer questions about when he will see 'X' again.

personally I would prepare him by letting him know the child  has been in an accident and is very ill, particularly if DS will return to kindy soon. Other families may have told their children and you want to be the source of information, not the other kids.
I also don't agree with the advice to wait until the child brings it up. Children often need permission to discuss things and will wait for a cue from you. Doesn't mean you go into intense detail just open up up communication and see if he responds.

Note I'm a kindergarten teacher, the staff are going to be absolutely devastated too. Hopefully they will be proactively ready to deal with the children and are being supported while they do, but I would hope there will be time for a whole room parents meeting so everyone can get together. And the children should be involved too in creating some sort of memory book.

It is possible you will see some role playing of the accident or being 'dead' amongst the children. This a normal way of them trying to understand it. (After the black saturday fires my kinder kids played fire games and painted fire pictures for months. it's their way of coming to terms with it.)

And it is OK to be sad - not rolling around hysteria - but being emotional is fine. he will sense your emotions and be more confused if you don't name them.

Thinking of you. A child in my daughter's class died at school 17 1/2 years ago. I was in tears over it on the weekend as her sister and my other DD (who were babies at the time) were talking about it. That grief never goes away, you just learn to live with it better.

#20 Lou-bags

Posted 14 June 2018 - 08:36 PM

Yes I really feel for his teachers, Anon. That’s how I knew it was a boy in our class- the TA left the room crying at drop off and the teacher wasn’t there and there were a bunch of other adults I’d not seen before, and the chaplain.

We have just found out he died. So so sad.

DH wants to wait until after kindy tomoz to tell him. I think that’s a bad idea.

#21 OceanTwentyFour

Posted 14 June 2018 - 08:46 PM

I’m so sorry Lou-bags. I don’t have any advice to offer but I think I know the situation you are referring to and it’s an absolute tragedy. I hope you and your DS are ok xxx

Edited by OceanTwentyFour, 14 June 2018 - 08:48 PM.

#22 just roses

Posted 14 June 2018 - 08:47 PM

I’m so sorry. I agree with you that you need to tell your DS before he goes to kindy. He’ll find out anyway - there’ll probably be counselling happening at school - so better it come from you. It’s ok to show emotion and for him to see that you’re sad.

My friend has just written a beautiful book to help her kids - and all kids - deal with death in a really encouraging and safe way. It might be good for your son? It’s called Finn’s Feather and you should be able to find it widely at the moment.

#23 Chelli

Posted 14 June 2018 - 09:02 PM

Oh how heartbreaking :(

I agree with the others to be upfront about what happened, but to cater to his level of understanding and take your cues from him. Tell him it's ok to ask questions and to give him time to process it.

Tell him he can talk to you about it at any time and give him permission to be sad. I'd also explain that sad can feel like lots of different things to different people. Some people get sad and cry, others feel scared and some people may even feel angry about it, but they are all normal things to feel.

He may also need to be told to expect that adults around him may feel sad too.

My thoughts are with you all and the family of the little one.

#24 TheGreenSheep

Posted 14 June 2018 - 09:10 PM

OP I am so sorry. What an absolute tragedy. I feel silly but I don’t know, but reading or thinking about this makes me tear up. So bloody awful for everyone.

#25 PhillipaCrawford

Posted 14 June 2018 - 09:15 PM

Please, please tell him.
The other children will know, they will be bursting with what for them is big news.

And he will walk in tomorrow and there will be tears everywhere.

"DS I am feeling very sad this morning.
X was in a car accident and although when you are hurt usually the doctors can help you get better, X was so badly hurt they couldn't fix him. I am sad to tell you he died."

There will be tears  and then he will run off and do normal kid things; and probably behave appallingly because he is all upset.

But you have got to tell him, unfortunately this is not something you can shelter him from and the only way through it is with total honesty. Hide it from him and he will lose trust.

Tell DH I have been teaching 4 year olds since 1984 so I do know what I am advising.

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