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Mention it. Manage it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Action verbs. How to talk about death with my 3 1/2 year old? A wise woman at our local “Parenting Center” quoted Mr. Rogers to me this morning:
“If you can mention it, you can manage it.”
Her explanation is that if you don’t talk to your kids about these “unmentionables,” they are going to hear it elsewhere in a version that may be scarier or more damaging. We have been talking to H about “death” or at least using the word “dead” easily with her since we’ve known her. “That mosquito is dead. Oh, that little birdie is dead. Mama’s grandpa, Great Grandpa, died. That is why we are sad.” She still doesn’t really grasp it or get alarmed by it. I was concerned I had done something terribly wrong upon learning a good friend never mentions the d-word in any form. Ever. Everything is “sleeping.” But then kids might become afraid to go to sleep. What if they never wake up?

The Parenting Center guru with whom I discussed this today also told me that these toddler’s worlds are extremely concrete. If we mention “heaven,” it is a real place to them. But even if you don’t believe in heaven, you should still talk about how some believe in it, because they will hear it anyway. And explain to them just what it is that you believe. I thought this was all very helpful. My gut instinct told me to use these words with them before they hold any real power so they can ease into their meaning as their cognitive abilities develop and allow such understanding.

It doesn’t make the loss of a young fellow mother and a dear friend’s three-year-old any easier to bear, but there is nowhere to go right now but through it.

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