Friday, May 18, 2012

Talking About Death With Preschoolers

 Hi, I'm Greg & I am an Early Childhood Teacher from Australia. I write a blog called Males in Early Childhood which you can find by clicking here.

Usually when I post here in the collaborative blog I create a new post that either talks about a topic I haven't covered before on the Males blog, or tackle an issue already addressed from a different angle. This post however, will be slightly different. This post will be partly self promoting, something I normally avoid as much as possible. It will be partly a revisit of a recent post on the Males blog, also something I try to avoid. And finally, it will partly be a call to arms, a challenge if you will, to all the early childhood professionals, parents and other interested parties.

The Males post I refer to spoke about how I discussed the subject of Maurice Sendak's death with a group of preschoolers. I won't go into the details of the post here as you can visit it and read it for yourself by clicking on the link provided above, or to make it easy for you, here.

What I do want to talk about here is the reasons I believe this is not only an acceptable subject to raise with young children, but a necessary one from time to time. I don't expect everyone to share my views on this and respect your position either way. All I ask is that as you read on you do so with an open mind. For if we are to truly be the best we can be for our children we need to consider new ideas, approaches and theories with openness in order for us to be able to develop as professionals, parents and individuals.

For so long death has appeared to be one of the unspoken taboo topics for so many early childhood educators and parents. Many believed that young children are not ready to either cope with the strong emotions or deep subject matter such a topic would unveil, or that the children would not fully understand what was been talk about. These are real concerns by real people. However, in my humble opinion they don't give enough credit to the children of the person who might broach such a subject with them.

First of all I would say that many, if not most adults do not fully comprehend the emotions or subject matter when it comes to dealing with death, yet we still talk about it with them. If we are to have a view off young children as being capable, resourceful and resilient then we should honour them by being open and honest with them in all our dealings with them.

Now while death may not be easy for you to even talk about, there are times when it be beneficial for all, including yourself, to introduce the subject. I chose to use the death of the author of one of our favourite books. It made it relevant and I was able to use the book as a way to connect the obscure news with what they were familiar with. It then turned into a celebration of his life, in particular that book and the memories of lost beloved pets.

For others it may be a little more difficult. Someone shared with me how one of their children's siblings had died. Now while some may have found this a time to divert the children's attentions away from this tragedy and cheer them up, this professional used it as an opportunity to enable the children to explore their real feelings and share their empathy with their very unfortunate peer. It was real to them because it affeccted someone close to them and therefore them.

Now while most people won't have to deal with such traumatic even as this with preschoolers, that doesn't mean that those same children haven't already experienced death. Whether it be the death of a pet or a family member. I was astounded to discover when talking to families about this that four of the children who were part of this experience have attended funerals for family members.

No matter how open we are with families there will be things we don't  know about them for one reaon or another. We shouldn't assume that the children have no experience with this or that. Even if death haas never been something they have had to even think of, I truly believe they are still entitled to talk about it in the right circumstances and in a caring and respectful way.

As I said to my preschoolers, "Death is  a part of life. We will all die sometimes and we will know people who will die. Some of us have even hadd pets that have died." That's how we got onto the whole pets who have died topic. Go read the post over at the Males blog. I hope you find what we plan to do to follow up with inspiring. As for you, you may or may not wish to discuss such a matte with your children. That's toatally up to you. Just keep in mind that a something simply doesn't go away if you don't talk about it. Respect the children and the families, but most of all, respect yourself no matter what decision you make.

Finally, I think this article may prove worthwhile for those who want some tips on how to tackle this sensitive topic with young children, particulaly one on one.


  1. I love your approach to talking about death with preschoolers, Greg! I think that being open and honest truly shows respect for the child. Your post at Males in Early Childhood is wonderful ... I loved reading about the children's responses. I pinned your post to my Stress-Free Kids Pinterest board at

    1. Thanks for that Deb. They even make the connection between what we discussed and the risk of new plants in our playground dying if we don't look after them. We may not always realise it, but what we do can influence many other areas. I had no idea at the time that my talk about Maurice Sendak would lead to a higher regard for nature and a better understanding of the interconnectedness between all living things. That seems like such an advanced concept, but many of them do 'get' it.


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