Carolyn Hax: Helping a child understand death

Carolyn Hax:

January 6, 2014 

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Carolyn: My 5-year-old has been asking a lot of questions about dying, such as what happens when you die, do you see God, how old are you when you die — which eventually results in a question about whether a young person can die.

Is this normal for the age? I never experienced this with my older child. We have not had a recent death in the family that might have triggered these questions.


In my experience it’s normal, but any time you’re worried and trying to figure out what the range of normal behavior is for a child, it’s better to ask someone “on the ground” versus someone in the ether like me, because that person would have the benefit of context and follow-up questions in answering you. Choose someone who knows you and your child, who is a veteran at dealing with matters of child development — teacher, pediatrician, clergy person, a particularly astute parent — and whose judgment you trust.

The 10-buck answer (or free answer, via your local library) is “Lifetimes” by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen. It’s a matter-of-fact but gentle way to explain death to a child.

Carolyn: I have five siblings. Our widowed, elderly mother lives in a retirement community and requires our support. One sibling was unemployed last year. So, we let him out of financial support until he was on his feet again. He and spouse are working again (for several months now) but are not providing financial support despite direct requests to do so.

I am angry and resentful because, of course, the rest of us have financial obligations, too (the amount is less than $100 per month). What can I do to encourage him to start paying again?


Drop it. It’s not right for your brother to duck this without explanation, but he’s doing it. Leave it to his conscience, and be right with your own — and leave room for the possibility that he just needs more time to catch up.

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