Heart Pondering

The ponderings of one Christ-following mom on raising preschoolers

Discussing death and other delicate topics March 8, 2009

Filed under: Communication and speech,Culture — Susan @ Christian Mothering @ 10:50 pm

How’s a four-year-old to respond when his grandfather’s facing a tough bout with cancer and his goldfish just died?  I good friend and I talked this through recently, including her son asking if she were going to die.  Not a first-time conversation any mom eagerly anticipates.


Death has come in discussions with our son in recent months, primarily in relation to Bible stories like David and Goliath and car accidents – mostly in relation to traffic-training that comes with suburban sidewalk play.  He doesn’t entirely understand the notion yet, but we’re trying to help him grasp it and give him a biblical framework for it. 


If I were in my friend’s shoes, I’d be inclined to say something like this to my son: “God made us and loves us, and He decides the right time for our life to start and when it should end.  We can trust God, even though dying is sad and it’s hard for us to say goodbye people we love. And God is our father and loves us the most, and He never dies and will always be there, even when people we love die.”  (Perhaps more about heaven and Jesus depending on the child’s comprehension and the specifics.) There’s always comfort in God and his truth, even for toddlers, and to me it seems the healthiest way for kids to learn about tough realities like death is from the mouth of a loving parent, who can help them grasp these issues in age- appropriate ways, planting them squarely within the Christian worldview.


The hardest part may be discerning when they’re ready for it and how much to share.  In a recent community-service presentation in my moms’ group, one participant voiced her reluctance to involve her eight-year old daughter in a crisis pregnancy center (by volunteering or fundraising) as her goal is to expose her to positive family dynamics.  She didn’t want to fill her daughter’s mind with notions of sex outside of marriage, teen pregnancy, babies without daddies, and the like. I completely saw her point.  Then I wondered- what age is right to address such topics?  And how can we ensure that we’re the ones introducing these issues and providing context for our kids, rather than other sources?


I see some schizophrenic tendencies in our culture when it comes to informing children.  On one hand, society’s got every effort under the sun to grow kids up before their time and expose them to things far too mature (and frankly wayward ) for them – take video games and Bratz dolls as obvious ones.  On the other hand, we live in a sanitized, excuse-oriented society that can lead moms to coddle their kids and see them as unready to handle things that could benefit them.  A generation ago, for example, kids grew up seeing that meat we comes from animals, and many lived on farms where the butchering of animals was normative.  It wasn’t fun but was part of life, and kids grasped the cycle-of-life reality. Today we encounter many who think we’re scarring our kids by letting them absorb this reality from a young age in the household chickens we keep.


How can we keep our kids kids – innocent, secure, age-appropriate, trustful – in a world that would jade them practically from the cradle…  and simultaneously give them a Biblical worldview large enough to encompass the things they need to know about life?  Hearing it from us, ensuring its godly, arming them with knowledge and truth from their toddler years?  I’m not sure there are any easy answers, but I’m thankful that wisdom is available to us as we seek it through prayer and the Word.


4 Responses to “Discussing death and other delicate topics”

  1. Sarae Martin Says:

    This is not necessarily related to death by what is age appropriate in media. My mom who is a retired educator of 30+ year, school librarian and gifted ed. teacher gave me these parameters for books and movies. The main character should be the same age or within 2 years of your child.

    The example that I can think of that is so popular today is High School Musical. There are so many young kids that are watching this movie because it is G-rated. I have seen it…and it is clean (at least the first one). But there are still issues in that movie that are for teenagers…dating being the main one. Do I want my 3rd grader thinking she needs to find a boyfriend. NO! That is not an appropriate age for that.

    I have found that the criteria above is a great way to evaluate what books kids should be reading too.

    The example I can think of is the Harry Potter series. I just finished reading them and they are fantastic and gripping. I think the first Harry Potter would be very appropiate for a 9-10 year old to read. (That is how old Harry is in that book). I also would read it with my child to help them process parts of the book. But would I let my 1st grader who is an excellent reader read it. No way! Would I let my 10 year old read the last book where Harry is 17. No! It is a much darker book and not appropiate.

    This criteria might help you find fiction stories that deal with death and are age appropriate. Then you can read them together and talk about a Biblical worldview.

  2. heartpondering Says:

    That’s a very helpful benchmark and makes a lot of logical sense. The developmental capacity of the child parallelling that of the main character is smart from a ‘what is the child ready to handle?’ standpoint. Great tip.
    The example of “High School Musical” is an interesting one… I’ve not seen it but do know families that use is as ‘family friendly’ for all ages, and this makes me doubly interested in your evaluation criteria. I’ll definitely keep it in mind.

  3. Sarae Martin Says:

    I totally understand why families would use it for all ages. It is so hard to find something your 3 year old can watch that will interest your 9 year old. It makes family night stuff difficult. I know I am more leniant with what I let my current 3 year old watch (who is number 4) then what I let my first three watch. (Which is not necessarily right…and something I need to be reminded of).

    Oh this parenting things is so hard…I just pray that the Lord will guide each of my steps to make the right decision for each of my children.

  4. Joellawme Says:

    I like the criteria, Sarae. Very helpful. Thank you.
    On the death and suffering question, I too am unsure. Our culture is so weird: on one hand, we throw all sorts of inappropriate stuff at 6 year olds (as in the concept of dating), and on the other hand, we generally want everyone to ignore the reality of death and suffering, especially children.

    With my little son, I am prone at the moment to take my lead from good childrens’ Bibles. I trust that the Bible is a good place to encounter the notion of death for the first time. My son has spent a lot of time processing the Passover over the past few weeks, and the death of the sons of Egypt (“Pharoah’s son got broken?”). He is feeling the sadness of judgment. And he is connecting that to the death of Jesus (“Jesus got broken but God fixed him?”). My prayer is that through this, he will be filled with joy and wonder at the Resurrection.

    Of course, I don’t look forward to helping my children grieve the death of someone they know and love. Ugh. When I have been with children as they grieve, I understand the tendency of many adults to run away, or to shut down the child’s grief. It takes great courage to walk through grief with a child, because you feel desperate to end their pain, and you just can’t.

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