...fall back on a religious fantasy tale.
Last night, my youngest came down in tears. He was 'missing granddad terribly' even though the old fella died long before littlest was even born. He's still at an age where imaginary friends can seem quite real, and a recent classroom initiative to try and bring the grandparents more into school life had obviously sparked it up into a virtual relationship similar to those he was observing in class. He was asking about death, frankly, and wondering whether I could somehow 'fix it'. To my horror, I found myself preparing to give him the "Granddad is up in heaven, looking down on you and smiling" speech, purely because I'm of an age where that was the standard way of dealing with such a situation, and it was the default way of deflecting a child asking about death. It was done to me, in fact, and I remember the occasion clearly.
It's also, of course, about as complex an idea as a young child can handle, or so they say, which is the other reason I found myself considering it as a way to calm the child down and stop him hurting. Fortunately, I caught myself in time, and decided to be honest with him. After all, bullshitting a young 'un about something like this doesn't solve the problem, it just kicks the can down the road, and if anything, adds to the confusion, storing up trouble for later. I therefore started off with Disney's 'circle of life' meme, which he understood, because he's watched the Lion King about a dozen times.
Having got his attention, I thought I'd just see how much more he could comprehend over and above the infantile 'invisible sky fairy' nonsense we are tempted feed them at this age. I explained that we all live in the real world, and although granddad isn't around anymore to come and have dinner with us, or take him out to play football, he's is still here, all around us, as part of the world. He's in me, and in you, and in everything you can see and touch, because everything we do, everything we say, and everything we even think automatically becomes part of the universe forever and ever. That's the real circle of life. It may have gone in one ear and out the other:- I couldn't tell at the time. What I do know though is that it stopped him crying, and got his attention, hopefully giving him something to think about, and when he's older, I'm confident I can explain why that's true (your mind is purely physical, and so on).
He slept through, and was happy as Larry the next morning, so I recommend this honest strategy to you if your own kids ask that question, and you aren't sure whether they can understand the real answer.If your kids ask about 'death', DON'T be tempted to feed them the 'granddad is in heaven watching you'… Click To Tweet