How do you explain death to a four year old?

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Joined: 08/06/11
Posts: 360
How do you explain death to a four year old?


My name is Heather and I have a four year old daughter. She is quite mature and very curious and creative. My husband's uncle passed away a few months ago, and we struggled to explain it to her. We told her that he had died, but she often plays games where her dolls are dead and then she, as the doctor, brings them back to life! Also, we struggled saying that he was buried in the ground and leaving it at that. That is what we believe, but it sounds different saying it to a four year old. The image of a loved one being buried in the ground is difficult for me as an adult, and with the imagination of a preschooler, I have no idea what she is picturing as her great uncle now. My husband said that his body is in the ground but his spirit remains in our memories and in the places he has been and the people who he interacted with. Tricky concept for a four year old, and just the other day she asked me how he doesn't fall on us when it rains.

I feel like I could be doing a better job explaining this. What phrases or concepts would you use with her in this situation?? Any advice or suggestions would be really appreciated!!


Alissa_Sal's picture
Joined: 06/29/06
Posts: 6427

I'm so sorry. I just saw this. Unforunately, I don't really have any advice for you. My son is 3.5 and he has had two experiences with death so far (my husband's grandfather and the daycare lady's dog.) He will sometimes mention "Grandpa **** got sick and died." but I am not sure that he totally knows what it means. Then he will also say "Denali (day care lady's dog) is a ghost." LOL I'm pretty sure he doesn't quite get it. We have tried to tell him that the dead live on in our memories, but I'm not sure how much he understands. I don't even know where he got the idea that the dog is a ghost! So, if you think of a great way to help your daughter understand, please pass it on. Thanks!

ETA: PS - Hi and Welcome, Heather! Why don't you introduce yourself and tell us a little about you and your family. Smile

Joined: 08/18/07
Posts: 470

Hi Heather, we had a close family friend die when my girls were 3 and 5 (they're now 4 and 6) and I just explained it sort of matter of fact, that we will miss him but try to remember all of the fun things we did with him, etc. Just recently a friend said something about heaven and my girls looked at me like what the heck is that? So I told them that some people believe that when someone dies their spirit goes to heaven and sort of keeps on living in heaven, but that I don't believe that, even though I think it's possible. And my 4 year old just asked me if dead people ever come back to life and so I told her no, but that some people believe that after you die, your spirit might be re-born in some other form, like in a dog, or a new baby, only you wouldn't remember your other life... she actually loved that idea and keeps running around saying when she dies she's going to become a boy, or a dog or whatever... I figured i'd just leave it at that for now... During the conversation, my 6 year old started to get upset worrying about when her grandma and grandpa die, and part of me thinks it would be so easy just to say 'don't worry, you'll see them in heaven someday', but I just don't believe that so I just say yes it will be very hard, but that's why we just have to be happy they live so close and we get to spend so much time with them now so we'll have lots of great memories when that happens, and hopefully won't happen for a long time!

Sorry, turned into a book! I have told my kids about cremation and that I like the idea of my body becoming like dust or dirt that would be returned to nature after I die (I just like the thought of that much better than being buried in a casket!)...