Children's Challenging Questions

A mother's 4-year-old daughter is starting to ask challenging questions, specifically about death.

Mom Said

Should I Lie to My Kids?

Answering tough questions

-Nataly Kogan,

little girlWe haven’t figured out why, but lately my daughter (she is four) has been asking a lot of questions about death. Why do people die? When will I die? What happens when you die? You know, the pleasant, easy-to-answer questions. My husband thinks that our goldfish dying a few weeks ago might have sparked this curiosity, and he might be right. Regardless, we’re now trying to figure out how much and how to tell her, how to not make stuff up, and how to explain things in a way she can understand and not get freaked out at the same time.

Basically, we’re trying to decide whether to lie or to tell the truth, and if we tell the truth, how do we color it so that it’s not completely horrible?

Our general philosophy as parents has been to be fairly straightforward with our daughter. When she sits close to the TV, I tell her that she can hurt her eyes by doing so, not that a monster might jump out and eat her. When she asks me why some girl doesn’t want to play with her on the playground, I explain that not all people like one another. When she wants to know why she doesn’t have a brother or a sister, I tell her that it’s how Mommy and Daddy want our family to be right now, and that we just love it with the three of us.

But these are all fairly easy questions compared with the death investigation we’ve been undergoing. For example, the other day, she asked specifically if her babysitter would die soon. I asked why she wanted to know, and she said, “Well, she told me she can’t run fast because she is old, and I know that old people die.” Right – thanks for that easy one. I explained that, yes, when we get very old, we do die, but that her babysitter is still not that old and she will be fine. My daughter looked at me with that “not sure what you mean but I’ll play along for now” look and went on with her coloring, but I know she wasn’t convinced. When she pressed me later about where exactly people go after they die, I tried to explain the whole thing about cemeteries, but I either didn’t do a good job or it was too complex of a notion, because we didn’t get far. I kind of wished I believed in Heaven at that point, because I think my daughter would like that explanation quite a bit.

I know we’re at the very beginning of the tough-question period with our kiddo, and to be honest, it makes me nervous. I, for one, remember every single answer my parents gave to my endless tough questions, and I can tell you that it colored my notions about those issues for years. And while I tend to think it’s quite important to explain things honestly to our kids, however unpleasant those explanations might be, I am not sure how often I’ll be sticking to this in practice.

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