Discussing death with kids – secular style

Cake AND death!

Now that my little one isn’t quite so snotty/coughy/awake-all-night-y, here’s a quick post for discussion: how do parents who don’t believe in an afterlife talk about death with their kids?

Since Chloe is 8, she’s starting to understand death in a more adult way – like, it’s permanent.  And real – it will happen to everyone she knows, including her.  She had a bad fall and busted up her face pretty good last Friday, and I think that contributed to her pondering this stuff.

I can’t help but pull out a little hope for life everlasting by introducing the concept of transhumanism, but at the same time I feel the need to deal with the idea that one day we’ll just stop, and we won’t be anymore, in any capacity, for eternity.  Luckily Mark Twain has thought of a great quip to cover this most grave of contemplations: “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

How do you discuss death with your kids?  If you believe in an eternal afterlife, how do you avoid freaking them out with the idea of endless aeons of consciousness?  Because that freaked me right the hell out as a Catholic child!  Before ever reading it, I had intuited the punchline of Stephen King’s story “The Jaunt.”  But perhaps I have always just been far more morbid than the average person.

About Christine

I'm a full-time mother to two kids, an ex-lawyer, a breastfeeding counselor, a skeptic, and (to steal a phase from Penn & Teller) a "science cheerleader." You can reach me through my Facebook page.

Posted on February 10, 2012, in Parenting and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I have been thinking about this for a while and my little one is only 15 months. If my husband and I die our child(ren) will go to my brother in law and his wife who are Catholics. I made a stipulation that they never force my kid(s) to go to church and if they ask about my views to answer with “Your mom believed in science”.

    That is a different issue than if my child comes up to me and asks me what religion we are and about after death/life. I plan to use scientific and skeptical language when discussing issues so it can be a similar conversation about death. Perhaps I will say, “No one knows for sure, but some people believe X, Y, Z” Of course that will probably lead to, “what you do think mom?” Which, for now, I plan to answer with, I don’t know, but I like to think it is like sleeping”.

    I am interested to see what others say.

  2. You die and that is it for thinking. Your body becomes the earth and it’s atoms could end up being in flowers, trees, dirt, animals,etc… It comes back to a great quote from Neil deGrasse Tyson, “We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”
    I will be honest with my daughter.

  3. Death has been a concept that my daughter has had for as long as she could ask what that non-moving, insect looking thing was on the ground “Dead bug” I answered. I was never afraid to answer her questions honestly. I figured if I answered with confidence, she would be less fearful “Yep, we all die but hopefully it will happen a long time from now”. She knows about decay and that even humans decay, she knows that she will die someday. It’s just one of those conversations that we have fairly regularly.

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