Death is a fact of life. Well, actually it's a result of life, but it's still inevitable and does not care how old your child is. Many parents try to shelter their children from death. They say the dog ran away. They say grandpa moved. They make safer explanations for young kids like toddlers. As a parent I don't think that's a good idea. I think honesty is the one thing we should always give our children, so they are prepared for the harsh truth life will always give them. At 3 years old, my toddler understands when someone is "dead," he even plays dead, but he doesn't have a deranged view of life, he's not scarred for life, and it doesn't scare him. Later when someone or a pet dies, the lesson of death will be far less harsh for him, because its not a new concept. You can teach toddlers about death without it being a bad thing. This is how.
I don't often look to cartoons for parenting help, but Disney has the racket on death. Think about it, almost every Disney cartoon involves the death or someone. Bambi's mom, Simba's dad, Nemo's mom and hundreds of siblings -- the characters are almost always orphans, or someone dies whether it's a good or bad guy. As a result, Disney can be a great, not-related-to-you way to introduce the concept of death to toddlers. Simply point out that so-and-so died and answer your toddler's questions.
Tell the truth.
Next, when death presents itself, don't lie. Use it as an opportunity to explain death and why it happens. I generally try to keep my religious beliefs out of such discussion -- more on why by clicking here -- and stick to the facts. I'm not saying you should be graphically blunt. You should use verbiage that a toddler can understand. For example, if your dog gets hit by a car, you could just say, "*insert name* died, and isn't here anymore." There will be questions you'll have to answer in reaction and you should have a plan formulated in your head as to how you want to explain death. It's a big subject, and chances are your child won't understand all of it just yet, but just introducing the concept can help later.
Let them see what happens after death.
Whether it's a funeral or wake, let your toddler attend. You can even hold little funerals for family pets. Death does make people sad, and that's OK. That it's OK to be sad is another lesson toddlers can learn from death. It can help to cycle back to your child's favorite Disney movies, and point out how all the characters are OK, that life went on.
How did you introduce death to your children?
You may also enjoy: