Young children do well when sickness and death are explained with some detail. They can handle relating to a sick and dying person when truth is explained and illustrated. They are naturally curious and seek information to satisfy their curiosities. They are thirsty for words and sentences for what they are experiencing.
Katie’s parents explained that Grandma Angie at age 93 would probably not live many more days. On her birth Grandma was in the hospital but Katie (“Three and one-half,” as Katie would respond emphatically when asked her age) wanted to see her. Jenny explained in detail Grandma Angie’s sickness and what her daughter might see in the hospital and in Angie’s room. Katie wanted to go and to take some of her beautiful rocks to show her grandma. Angie smiled, commented on the smooth rock saying, “If you lick the rock its special colors brighten.” She found the energy to lift and licked the rock showing a bright-eyed Katie the brightening colors. Ninety years separated them but could not diminish their shared curiosities.
Grandma Angie was moved to a hospice. After visiting, Katie was fascinated that she could not longer feed herself asking Jenny over and over to tell the story why and what happened in her body and who took care of her.
The morning Grandma Angie died Jenny and Todd told the details of her death to Katie. They had been there when she stopped breathing and her body stopped moving. They invited Katie to go to the hospice to see Grandma Angie’s body and to say goodbye to her. Katie wanted to take one of her special rocks. On the way to the hospice Katie said, “Tell me the story again.” So Todd and Jenny repeated the account of her death.
When they arrived at the hospice Jenny and Todd explained in detail what Katie might see inside including their description of the deceased grandmother’s body in the bed. Katie’s natural curiosity pulled her to experience all aspects of entering the room, standing on a chair beside Angie’s bed, crawling off the bed to touch her face and then kiss her grandmother. From a pocket she brought out her special rock, licked it saying, “Now in heaven you can see ALL of the bright colors God made in rocks.”
At breakfast the next morning Katie said, “Tell me about Grandma Angie dying again.” So Jenny and Todd patiently repeated the story. Afterwards Katie said, “Well Grandma Angie is dead but I still love her and she loves me.”
Remember young children learn by repetition. Repeat your explanations and stories. Katie asked to hear the stories again, but even if your preschooler does not ask, repeat the stories to them. They are taking in the details, explanations, and satisfying their curiosities.
Repeating the stories and explanations means your child is learning the language and vocabulary necessary for his/her personal life narrative.