Explaining death to a 3 year old — The Bump
Pre-School

Explaining death to a 3 year old

My husband's grandfather passed away early this morning and we are at a loss as to how to tell our DS. He knows who he is, has gone to their house quite frequently, and adores him. I hate having to tell him that he won't be able to see Big Pa any more. This is the first person he's close to that had passed away. Anybody have any tips on making this somewhat easy on all of us, if that's possible?
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Re: Explaining death to a 3 year old

  • is there maybe some kids books that deal with the issue? maybe you could read to him. 

    do you believe in heaven? that's i'm sure a nice way to ease him into the subject?? tell him he's up in heaven. or have you had any pets pass away? tell him that grandpa is in heaven with ____. 

    i don't have any personal experience. 

    sorry for your loss and good luck 
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  • With kids you need to be very concrete. Also as stinking as it is you have to say the words he died. If you say passed away or has gone away etc its too confusing.
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  • Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs is a great book for helping to explain a grandparent passing away (although I get choked up every time I read it). DD is OK with the idea of animals/people going to heaven.
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  • Thanks for the tips! I told him we were going to see his great-grandmother, but his Pa wouldn't be there anymore. He told me, "I know Mommy. Pa is very sick." He had an extremely sad face when I told him he wasn't going to see him again, but he did really well when we went over there. My husband talked to him once the two of us got to their house and told him he died, and DS told him the same thing he told me earlier. 
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  • Sorry for your loss.  We lost DH's grandparents when DD was almost 3 and about 3.5, and then my parents' dog died this spring (DD almost 4.5). My beloved Grandpa has gone downhill fast and is in a nursing home now and I am worried for all of us about dealing with that one. Anyway, we told her that Grandma's body got very old and wasn't working well anymore, and she was very sick (but not like when you get a cold or something; a different sick), and she died. We said that we are very sad b/c we don't get to see her anymore, but that we can still love her. We said she went to heaven and now she isn't sick and tired anymore and she feels much better. She still loves us, too, but we don't get to visit. I think I would be more clear (or try to be) about spirit going to heaven, but not sure there's a way to do this at 3 either. DD had VERY concrete questions--how do you get to heaven? In a car? Where was Grandma going to sleep? Where would she get her hair done?", etc. Also don't be surprised if you also get weird, matter of fact questions or statements, like, out of the blue, "Grandpa died. Right? Why did Grandpa die?" or, "So and So wasn't at school today. Did she die?"
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  • My husbands grandfather passed away in July. My 7 yr old understood the most, my 3 yr old had no fears of giving Pop hugs -- We did not want to use words like sick or ill. We just said very simple words and explained he lived a very long life and shared short stories about his 8 great grand kids.

    We brought them to his place where they knew he was under hospice care and not mobile, basically on his deathbed. It was a very long process for his grandfather this spring and summer.

    We also brought them all to the funeral (3, 5, and 7 yrs old). It was a private military ceremony and absolutely beautiful. They asked a few questions about Pop being in the casket. But they all seemed to understand. But my boys do not ask a lot if questions.
    Boy 1 2/06 - Boy 2 12/07 - Boy 3 9/09
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