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How Do You Tell A Child About Death ?


When do you tell a child about death? How do you tell a child about death? My 3-year-old comes home from school and plays the typical boy games. Cowboys and Indians, Star Wars, Ninja Hero. He runs around fighting invisible opponents. Sometimes he wins and sometimes he dies, and then gets up and starts over. One time, he asked me how you come back from dying. I simply told him, “you don’t.” A couple of days after he asked that question, we had seen a special on the Kennedy family and they showed Bobby’s funeral. The streets were lined with people crying. My son asked, “Why are they all so sad?”  I had to explain that someone they cared about died. That’s why they were sad. He made a few little boy statements that were sweet: “He’s going to be in heaven with his mom. Will we see him when we die?” And then he went back to playing with his toys. It wasn’t real to him. He didn’t get it. After all, who is Bobby Kennedy to a 3-year-old?

Today we came off the road. I was so looking forward to life being normal again. Excited to get back on a regular schedule. Sleep in my own bed. Cook at my own stove. Blog on a daily basis. I walked into the house and was immediately overcome with a feeling of rest and ease. That was until the news at noon. Around 3 p.m., my phone started blowing up with calls and texts. I had been notified that an employee of mine died. He didn’t just die, he was murdered. When we got the news, my husband and I immediately went into shock. Our 3-year-old kept saying “Will you play with me?” Excited to be home with all of his toys again. But I couldn’t get out of my head. The first thing my husband said was, “Don’t tell him.” Our son knew this person. It was just back in June that this man was tossing our son around the bus. Playing with him like he played with his own two boys. This was no Bobby Kennedy. This person, to our son, was real.

I, of course, would never tell me son the details of what happened to our friend. But with funeral services coming up, tears that will be shed and with the somberness that will loom in the air, I’m certain he will sense something. How do you tell a child about death? When is the right time or the right age?  Is it even fair to say that there is a “right time”?

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