Life is full of big questions, especially for children. For instance, saying goodbye at any age is difficult, but saying goodbye when you are a four-year-old is difficult in other ways. Recently, I had to explain what death means to my son, Cohen.
Luckily, it was not a serious death in the family. Cohen overheard me tell my husband Mitch about the lion at the Henry Doorly Zoo that died of cancer. Cohen has been to several funerals, but they were all when he was much younger, so he’s still fairly new to the subject. A typical four-year-old has around 400 questions a day, but when you are talking about a topic they are not familiar with, such as death, it becomes 400 questions in a minute. Cohen was no exception:
“What happens when someone dies?”
“How did the lion die?”
“Can I catch cancer?”
“When I get sick, am I going to die?”
“Where do they go?”
“Can I visit?”
“Are all the other lions dead?”
It’s fascinating to see how the brain of a four-year-old works! I can’t imagine having to learn about a topic as serious as death at such a young age. Mitch and I sat Cohen down and were as open and honest as we could be about death. After answering all of his questions, I was glad he was curious and wanted to learn. However, I am not so excited about some of the talks we get to have in the future, and that’s making me a little anxious.
Preparing for Future Conversations
I was not prepared to answer all these questions surrounding death, so I wanted to make sure I was ready for the next topics that he may ask about. I wanted to know the appropriate way to talk with my child about different body parts, sex, drugs and alcohol. Sure, Cohen is still young and I won’t be having these talks with him tomorrow, but unlike the death talk I want to be prepared.
Even though Mitch thought the discussion was premature, we had a conversation surrounding how we wanted to talk to our children about important topics. Mitch wants to be as straight forward as possible. Before Cohen could talk, we agreed to use correct terminology when it comes to the parts of the body. Some words are obviously more difficult to say but we will continue to use the terms.
We are still trying to decide what the appropriate age is to have some talks with our children, and we want to be ready when it’s time. I’m sure the next time we are at the Henry Doorly Zoo, Cohen will ask questions regarding the lion that died. I’ll be a little more prepared this time, and I hope it’ll help him understand this big topic better.