Should we shield our children from death?
I’m not sure I know the “correct” answer to this question. We have chosen to be gently honest with our children when a death occurs. We usually tell them that the person or animal who died went to Jesus.
We’ve never had an old dog “go to live on a farm up north”. My kids would see right through that. They’d want to know why the dog couldn’t stay on our “farm up north”.
When we lose a pet we take a deep breath, deliver the sad news and offer hugs and comfort for as long as needed. Sometimes the kids need a day off, or a special outing to feel better, sometimes they have a mature thankfulness that the pet is safe and snug in “pet heaven”.
We’ve been lucky that the children haven’t lost a “close” person yet. I don’t know how they’ll react. But I do know that, for our children, honesty and plenty of hugs will smooth the way.
What about deliberate killing?
We choose to live the country life to the fullest extent we can on our half acre. We’ve raised and butchered chickens. Our kids have caught and helped clean fish. They have rushed out to see fresh game in the back of Dad’s truck. These things haven’t seemed to bother them a bit. Perhaps it’s because they have seen these things since before they could understand that the animal had a life at one time. Perhaps it’s because they have enjoyed plenty of venison jerky.
When we’ve butchered chickens that the children fed, and played with and petted, we urged the children to stay indoors and watch cartoons. Soon they were peeking out the window, and then they came out and watched with keen interest. I figured watching was one thing, but they’d probably turn up their noses at eating our chickens. Boy, was I in for a surprise. My six year old, who is know for barely eating anything at all, balked at eating any chicken except the ones we butchered until we ran out, at which point she quit eating chicken almost all together. She does eat the occasional nugget, but she still expresses a strong preference for “our chicken”.
I guess my point is that if we do choose to shield our children from death, and I can certainly see why one might, we can only do it for so long. Eventually they will come face to face with the loss of a pet, family member, or friend. It really sucks. But it might be easier if they’ve learned to process grief by working through a non-life-altering loss, before a serious loss occurs. I’m not saying that losing a gold fish compares to losing a friend or parent. I’m just thinking that experiencing a toned down, shortened and fully processed grief is good practice for a little heart which will grow up to experience real life-changing grief.
We took in a pair of orphaned ducklings over the weekend. Fluffy little adorable puff-balls. Neither made it through last night. I dreaded telling my girls, but I did. They cried for awhile then asked if they could have cake for breakfast. Now they’re watching cartoons and after chores we plan to spend the day at the park. I’m aware that we may see some ducks there, and that it might start the girls crying again. I’ll be there with the snuggles. And tomorrow will be another day.
How have you approached or avoided the topic of death with your children?