talking to a toddler about Death (& Miffy)

talking to a toddler about Death

Orla appears to thinks Miffy is Death. Or Deff, as she says it – like he might have a twin brother called Jeff.
It’s been a bit of a difficult month, you see…

It started a few weeks back when our lovely old house-chicken Matilda died. It was a sad and shocking loss, and in the days that followed Orla came to me with a lot of difficult questions.
Where had Tilly gone? Was she still her friend? Did I feel happy again yet? Why couldn’t we see her?

My first instinct was to explain it honestly, in language I figured she could understand.
‘Matilda’s dead now’, I said, ‘like the butterfly in Bing. She’s gone to sleep forever, and we have to say goodbye’.
It didn’t work; she patted me kindly and said, ‘she’ll be back soon’ and ‘we’ll see her later’, prompting me to do some small sobs into a hanky.

Next we tried that invaluable parenting tool, a plausible lie:
‘Matilda has flown away into the sky’.
This seemed a fairly tidy explanation, sort of combining ideas of birds, afterlife and angels on clouds, but Orla was not having any of it.
‘Mummy can go and catch her in the car!’.
It transpired that in Orlish right now, ‘flown away’ and ‘blown away’ are interchangeable expressions, thanks to an episode of Topsy & Tim featuring giant helium balloons. (A similar confusion occurs around ‘sparkly’ and ‘party’, but I’m sort of with her on that.) She gives serious consideration to what she will carry outside with her, lest it too be blown away, so telling her that members of our little family could be taken by those terrible winds was possibly not the best solution. Abort! Abort!

So all that was left was to try and pass the responsibility on to someone else, someone wiser and cleverer – in this case, a children’s author called Wolf Erlbruch.
It wasn’t entirely our intention, to be honest, but some friends bought us Duck, Death and The Tulip a while back for its beautiful, strangely soothing story, and so it was sitting on the shelf.
Orla chose it one bedtime, and Rory read it to her.

talking to a toddler about Death book

I suppose it helped that Duck looks a lot like Matilda, and that we’d already used words like ‘death’ in our explanations; but when we got to the part where (spoiler alert!) Duck dies, she simply said, ‘like Tilly!’, & we knew she finally understood.
It would no doubt have been a wonderfully poignant moment, perhaps causing more tears and hanky-snuffles, had she not then followed it up with, ‘look, Miffy’s a bit sad now’, whilst pointing AT DEATH.. Indistinguishable, apparently.

So, there you have it. If you read this post hoping for an answer to the question, ‘just how should one talk to a two year old about death?’, the answer is simple: tell them that Miffy comes to get you, and then you blow away.

Good luck.

talking to a toddler about Death miffy