Words By S.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Teaching Death.

Filed under: Books/Literature,Film,Life,Ramblings,Television — S @ 9:03 am

Watching a very funny episode of The Robinsons* during which George had to teach his six-year-old about what death was, I began to think of how one would actually go about teaching a child what death is. It definitely raised a number of questions, such as:

  • How old should a child be when taught about death?
  • How does one go about bringing up the topic?
  • What is considered appropriate and inappropriate when teaching death?
  • What to do if questions about an “afterlife” should arise (particularly if, like me, you’re atheist)?

Granted, I do not have kids, so I won’t have to concern myself with this issue for quite some time (if ever) – it is a good topic to educate yourself in. Just how do you teach death?

In Little Miss Sunshine, the topic of suicide is brought up around a seven-year-old, in what turned out to be one of the funniest scenes ever in a film, and they were brutally honest. In The Robinsons, it took George days to figure out what to tell his son, and finally he gave a dictionary explanation chock full of synonyms – obviously much too confusing for a developing mind.

There are also a number of books on the subject, such as:

Butterflies: Talking With Children About Death… And Life Eternal by Rev. P William Vanderwyden (naturally, this book assumes that you want to teach your child the Christian philosophy)

My Pet Died (Let’s Make A Book About It) by Rachel Biale

Pet Death (Death, Value, And Meaning) by Sandra Helene Straub

And countless others, either dealing with death according to a particular religion, or dealing with the death of pets. But, is that all there is?

Say your child is raised atheist and without pets, then what? What “handbook” are you supposed to use for teaching your children about death?

Are you to be technical and medical at that point? Are to say, “Well, you simply just cease to exist”? Why are there so few secular books about death that do not deal with the issue of pet loss? Are you expected to just be brazenly honest?

To my readers with children – how do you teach children about death?

* = If you’ve never heard of/seen this show, you really must. It is a hoot!



  1. For kids without pets, chances are, they have friends who have pets. I don’t know anything on how to teach a child about death, granted I’m a barely legal college student, but I don’t remember asking or getting taught about it by anyone. My parents certainly didn’t teach me that.

    If I were to choose the moment I understood what it was, it’d be my grandfather’s funeral day. Seeing his photo being carried around by teary-eyed adults, I realised then that I’d never see him again. Is it a must that children be taught about it? I think there’s a possibility that children just learn about it as they grow up.

    PS: ^^ I watch The Robinsons every now and then (love it)

    Comment by mel — Tuesday, 30 January 2007 @ 6:24 pm | Reply

  2. “I will like you always, I will love you forever” was in a children’s book about death and the cycle of life and I thought it was a good way to teach a little one about death. I can sort of remember first learning of death and how surprised I was at the idea. On first learning about suicide, I was sorry I learned it because you can’t unlearn it, and I don’t think you can invent it, and it was such a countersensical meaning killer. How did this idea creep into the world? Murder too. I was even more surprised — and disturbed — on learning about sex — the act that leads to babies, and the generally illogical biological design. Concepts of death, murder, suicide, and sex pretty much early on put an end to my happy days.

    Comment by george — Wednesday, 23 May 2007 @ 3:38 am | Reply

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