How do you explain death to a nearly 5 year old?

This morning as I was about to leave for work, I opened the door to see a dead badger blocking my route off the driveway. It was on the pavement in the middle of the entrance to our driveway. I called for Ben, but Joshua wanted to come too and was very curious to see what was going on. He wanted to know what it was, and how it would get up (we said it wouldn’t, it’s dead). I tried to get him to go inside as we needed to carry it across the busy road into the woodland opposite but he wasn’t having any of it (his sister was oblivious in front of the TV). So we got him to stay close as we crossed the road and carried it (on a piece of board) over the road, up the steps into the woody area and layed it down in the corner.

Joshua didn’t seem particularly upset by the incident – he was more curious than anything else. But I’m curious as to what to say to him about it because this weekend when we were out rowing (been meaning to write a post about that) we came across a poorly pigeon and rescued it from the river bank only to have it die on Ben’s lap wrapped in a jumper. This was harder to explain than the badger as it had previously been alive and then half an hour later it was dead and both kids didn’t really understand the concept of “dead”. We said that it had been too poorly and had not survived. I even said, even though I’m not religious at all, that it had gone up to heaven – its just a lot nicer a concept than just “it’s dead”, isn’t it? I tried to explain that although its body was still there, its mind had gone away (maybe I should have just stuck with “it’s dead”). He asked why it was dead and we said that it was probably run over by a car. He said why? We said that if you are hit or run over by a car, you will be either badly hurt or you will die (too much?) and if you are small like a cat or a badger (OK, not THAT small) you are much more likely to die.

Should I have been less straight forward and made up some more stuff, or tried to protect him from the sight of a dead animal? I don’t know that I should really. It felt, not right, but normal to just explain to him exactly what was going on.

I have since called the council and they are going to come and pick it up but at least it isn’t lying there for school kids to step over on their way to school!

8 Thoughts on “How do you explain death to a nearly 5 year old?

  1. Gosh so difficult! I think what you said was exactly right though.
    Not looking forward to having these conversations at all, my eldest is nearly 3 and has no idea yet!

  2. Explaining death is a hard subject but I think you said the right thing x

  3. Dinky is also 5, and she brought up the subject when we recently brought 2 guinea pigs. It was then I remembered a golden piece of advice I was given by a parent of much older children, who had also been a foster carer
    “Always aim to tell the truth with as much detail as they need to know to satisfy their curiosity”
    So my answer (and we all parent differently with different children- which is part of what makes the whole journey interesting) was
    “Yes, the guinea pigs will die at some point, the book says they live for about 4-6 years, depending on how well we take care of them”
    She asked how long people live for I told her that most people live to be really old, to which she replied
    “But granddad is REALLY old he is 5-0!!! Is he going to die soon?”
    “No, that is actually in the middleish”

    Then she has been telling adults that when they get old the are going to die… like a mini grim reaper!

    You do what you can, and you said what helped your son most at the time.

  4. LOL. Love the mini grim reaper image!!! Thanks. It did feel right at the time. You can’t do much more than what feels right, I suppose!

  5. My kids found a dead lizard outside and asked me to take it to the vets…that was awkward and I did not know what to say, I bypassed by saying it was sleeping and then moved it into the garden, they are only two and three but it did make me wonder what to say when they are older :-/ I think you did the right thing and said it right, with the heaven etc.and being as honest as possible 🙂

Please comment so I know I'm not alone out here!

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