Tag Archives: death

Death: a tricky topic for parents (but slightly less awkward than sex)

6 Oct


There are conversations that parents fear having with their children. Topics that are either awkward to explain (sex) or difficult to explain in a way that children can comprehend and not be frightened by (death). Plenty has been written about how best to talk to children about death. Thankfully I’ve not yet had to address it close to home, with the exception of a couple of sickly pet fish. But is it possible to avoid touching upon the subject when it is so hard not to be exposed to it every day?

Last week, whilst my 5-year-old jumped on top of me I told her “to be careful or she’d squash me to death”. When she didn’t stop, I made a “bleurr” sound, closed my eyes, opened my mouth and let my tongue loll out. My fatal mistake was to lie too still. My daughter burst into tears – she thought I had died. I was wracked with guilt, although I must admit I was a little pleased that she was actually bothered. That said, I won’t be repeating my clearly Oscar-worthy performance. My little girl is certainly under no illusion what death means.

Last night, she told me that she’d heard her tummy rumble and was worried that she was so hungry her heart would stop. (A banana put paid to this dramatic outcome.) However, she then quietly asked me about the lady on the radio who had starved her child to death. She was talking about the awful death of 4-year-old Hamzah Khan. I recalled how my daughter would have heard this story over and over on the car radio. I also recalled how I had each time tried to sing over it and distract her so that she wouldn’t listen to what was being said. It is astonishing how much a child can absorb only to serve it up later when you least expect it.

It is hard to avoid death when the headlines are so full of it. Perhaps I should act more quickly in future and simply switch off the radio. Then again, it could be worse for a child to catch just a hint of something. That tiny seed of something not understood (or misunderstood) may grow into an overwhelming worry if dwelled upon alone. There’s no doubt that questioning death is an important part of growing up. It’s vital to help children to complete the jigsaw that is the world around them. It teaches them about consequences and empathy and that it is normal to feel upset and worried. Sadly, it also teaches them that not everyone in the world is good.

Fortunately, the workings of a child’s mind can make you look on the brighter side of life, even when considering death. Speculating on how people get to ‘heaven’, my daughter decided that it might be more than simply “floating out of a hole, invisible, in the middle of the night”. She suggested that everyone boards their own “death aeroplane” with a big bed in it which then flies you to heaven. I imagine they wouldn’t need to worry about metal cutlery on a flight like that. No need for a baggage allowance either, unless you count any unresolved chips on your shoulder. I just hope that when I go it’s not a destination served only by budget airlines. I’d like my last class to be first class.

Let’s talk about sex (maybe)

30 Jun

My little girl is growing up fast. Each day brings a new question. At the moment she is preoccupied with life and death – natural things to be curious about but which probably present the most difficult questions for a parent to answer without rattling the foundations of innocence. Of course, it can be highly amusing and I’m sure that upon being asked “When are you going to die?” Nanna saw the comedy value rather than suddenly dwell on her mortality.

Given a choice between life and death, death is probably the easiest to explain. My explanation of it involves aspects that 3-year-olds can’t fail to enjoy – flying into the sky, living on a cloud, becoming a star. For the moment at least, it involves a suspension of disbelief that a child is willing to accept without too many objections. As an atheist, it often feels like it would be easier to have a ready-made religious solution to the question of what happens when we die. But given that at some point the myth of Father Christmas will be shattered, I’d rather not break my kids’ hearts twice.

So what about “Where do babies come from?” This one requires pause for though. If you’re not prepared then you risk providing a shoddy explanation. My explanation is an example in point:

Daughter: How are babies made?

Me: Well, a daddy has a seed and a mummy has a seed and when those two seeds get together a baby grows in the mummy’s tummy.

Daughter: But how does the seed get into mummy’s tummy? Do you eat it?

Me: No, you don’t eat it.

Daughter: Well how does it get there then?

Here I pause. I’m standing at a fork in the road. Do I try and approximate the truth without too much detail? Do I be honest and risk her relaying a half-understood and inevitably outlandish description of sexual intercourse to her nursery chums and teachers? Storks? Tooth fairies doing other jobs to supplement their main income?  I do what all good parents would do – I backtrack and lie:

Me: Well, yes, actually you’re absolutely right. Mummies do eat the seed. Well done. Clever girl.

Since that conversation my daughter picks the seeds off the top of bread rolls and refuses to eat them. Tomatoes can present a bit of a problem.  At least she understands the concept of contraception and for that I will be grateful one day.

She’s seems moderately satisfied for the moment. Yet still the baby questions come so yesterday I decided to defer any form of parental responsibility and buy her a book. Even better – we were due to visit Nanna after town so Nanna could read her the book. Excellent plan!  However, the book is still in its bag, firmly hidden away and here I am praying my daughter doesn’t remember that we bought it. I didn’t flick through the book as carefully as I should have done before making the purchase. I just saw the page describing how babies start with a “special cuddle”. How lovely, I thought, that’ll do the job. What I didn’t  do was flick to the next page where there was an illustration of mummy and daddy having that special cuddle. It was a step too far for what I could show my little girl without opening up a whole new raft of questions. (The daddy has a beard – it was all a bit too 1970s. I might as well give her a copy of The Joy of Sex. And it uses the word sperm where ‘tadpole’ would – for a 3-year-old – clearly suffice. Eww!)

And so the eating of the seed story lives to see another day. If that means no more granary toast – so be it. Well, at least until she’s 16.

William's stories

Lots of stories!

blue milk

thinking + motherhood = feminist

Sara Bran

Notes on Gravity

bee & barlie's books

English Children's Books: Writing for other Expat families

Slummy single mummy



Random musings

My growing obsession blog

Struggles and successes in a suburban garden


a pro breastfeeding and gentle parenting blog

Style in my City

Fashion, food, lifestyle and culture in St Albans


...and sometimes he sings it instead

Love All Blogs

the first blog showcasing site and non-profit making, altruistic network that welcomes all bloggers

Dorkymum | Stories from Tasmania

Stories from our family home in Tasmania

Mayfair Mum

Adventures raising a Little Chap and more

Northern Mummy with Southern Children

Tales from a northerner stuck in the south

%d bloggers like this: