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atomicmonkey's avatar

My 3y/o is scared of dying. How best to calm him down?

Asked by atomicmonkey (1658 points ) April 12th, 2011

“OMG! How can your three year old be aware of death? You’re the worst parent in the world!” I hear you say. Well guess what? Sometimes pet cats die. And sometimes grandparents die. And sometimes you let your kid watch Nightmare on Elm Street. Okay, I didn’t let him watch that, but the other stuff DID happen and now he’s asking if I’LL die, and if HE’LL die and he’s getting a little anxious about it.

I tell him I don’t PLAN to die, and that it’s really not something he needs to worry about right now. I know if I tell him that everyone dies eventually that it will freak him right out and he’ll obsess over it. Or should I quit postponing the inevitable and perform that “Everybody Dies & It Could Happen Any Time, & It Probably Wont Be You Today But It Could Be” sock puppet play I’ve written for him. Who has a suggestion?

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13 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

Let him listen to your heart beat. Make sure he can hear it and ask him to mimic the sound. Then do the same to him and explain how strong the heart is. Then give him a big safe hug and let him know that you know your heart will keep you alive till he is big and strong and you have lived a long full life. And let him check every so often just to make sure! I remember that day like yesterday! Enjoy!

Supacase's avatar

It is okay to tell him that dying is part of life. Use his grandparent as an example that dying happens when we grow old and reassure him that you will both be here for a very long time. Now, of course we don’t know that, but he is 3. What he needs is reassurance. He doesn’t have the ability to reason the ins and outs of death yet – stay basic.

hopscotchy's avatar

@cruiser and @supacase make great points. I think it’s important to be honest and simple about this. Reassure as often as needed. I love this book. It very simply and factually celebrates the lifetimes of all living things. Also this and this – These last two are probably better for a child who is a bit older though.

mazingerz88's avatar

Great answers so far and in case you need more ideas, a trip to get some ice cream or a nice animated movie or flying a kite might help in calming him down.

chyna's avatar

A friend of mine had her son asking the same sort of questions at about the same age. His grandfather had died, so he asked everyone he met if they had a dad and if not where was he? I didn’t, had no idea of how to answer this and she gave me no clue as to what she had already told him. I told him that my dad died and was in heaven with Jesus. I knew they went to church and he knew about Jesus, so that satisfied him. At age three, I think the simpler, the better.

JLeslie's avatar

As a child I thought old people die. Later I learned that people can get sick and die, but it was very very rare for it to happen to young people. I also learned fairly young that accidents can happen and kill people, even young people. But, death never seemed to loom over me when I was young. My family never really discussed death much, and I never obsessed about it.

I think just reassure him that you are not going anywhere and you love him. Point out the pet was old and grandpa was much older also. If they had been ill, maybe even explain that also, if he is not satisified with the idea that they were simply older. This “obsession” with death will probably pass as the events that brought it all on drift into the past.

dabbler's avatar

I’d never think you a wayward parent because your child has been exposed to death. It just happens around us all the time.
I might be concerned if you told him some wild thing that confused him later in life when he has a more urgent need to understand it. Simple good, untrue not so much.
hmmm where did I put that sesame street version of Tibetan book of living and dying ?
What do you tell anyone who’s worried about dying ?
I totally love your idea of a sock puppet theatre telling. You’re a great parent already if you are equipped with sock puppets, and especially understanding that as an effective medium between you and your child.
Good luck with that!

Bellatrix's avatar

I can’t add to the fabulous advice presented here but… I could sense you feeling you are somehow to blame or that we would judge you as to blame. I can’t imagine anyone would blame you. My son was terrified of germs in the loo when he was three! He watched some toilet cleaner ad with green germy creatures and was freaked out. I made up some water and food colouring and told him it was ‘Monster Germ Killer” and he sprayed before he went.
It wasn’t my fault. These things happen. Don’t blame yourself. I certainly don’t blame you. Hope your little boy is calmer about death soon.

JLeslie's avatar

I agree, don’t feel bad, or blame yourself. For whatever reason your son has latched onto this and worked himself up. Maybe previously you were critical of parents, and so you feel other people will be critical of you?

atomicmonkey's avatar

Thanks @Mz_Lizzy & @JLeslie. I’m not really that concerned that I’ve caused his little fixation (although I did kill the cat, which started it all. Memo to me: stop killing pets & loved ones…) I probably just mentioned it because someone at work who has no kids looked at me like “No child should know about the grim specter of death!” so I was just throwing that out there in case there were any other such freakos on fluther. I’m new, so I am still sussing out the fluther freako-factor. Actually, I quite enjoy when people judge me for things. It says so much more about them than it does me, and I like that.

And thanks also to all the great suggestions. He’s a deep little thinker, and I’m sure he’ll be bringing it up a LOT. I need all the tactics I can get. He’s also decided that he’s not going to grow old, and just this morning he told me that when he’s a man, he’s going to make pancakes. So he clearly has a plan.

*I didn’t really kill the cat, she was just old and frail and how was I to know that you don’t put cats in the tumble dryer when they’ve been out in the rain?! I’m not PSYCHIC.

**I didn’t really do that either. I loved that cat. She liked to lick bricks. It was cool.

JLeslie's avatar

@atomicmonkey :) Welcome. I hope you stick around. Our collective is a great group in my humble opinion.

augustlan's avatar

You’ve received some great advice. Keep it simple and true (though not the whole I-could-drop-dead-any-minute-now truth). Treat it in a matter-of fact manner. Reassure with hugs and love. Then distract… “Want a piggy back ride?”

Bellatrix's avatar

You know @atomicmonkey, I think death is part of life and we can’t shield them from reality. Of course we have to try to present these things in an age appropriate manner but I do not agree with your colleague that children should not know about death. Death sadly happens. I like his not getting old plan and pancake plan actually. He sounds like he has his head screwed on just fine.

I am still fairly new here too but welcome to you. I hope we will hear from you often.

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