My mother-in-law passed away yesterday. This was not a sudden event as she was very sick for many months. My daughter knew she was sick and was talking with her up to only a few days ago.

What is a good way to explain this to a three-year-old? Also, should I bring it up now, or should I bring it up when my daughter asks about her? My daughter won't be attending the funeral although presumably she will be over to see my father-in-law soon as they are also close.

asked 23 Apr '11, 18:26

blue's gravatar image

accept rate: 26%

edited 23 Apr '11, 18:28

Although they are slightly different questions some answers to the following question may be helpful to you:

(23 Apr '11, 19:58) Tammy ♦♦

I was three or four when my great grandma died and my parents told me right away. Of course I cried a lot etc. but I think it was exactly right to tell me as soon as possible. You have to do it anyway.

Especially if she was close to her grandma, she will notice soon anyway, so I think it's better to not make her feel like you were keeping something from her. Children are amazingly good at noticing things, even if grown ups think otherwise.


answered 24 Apr '11, 04:21

Alexander's gravatar image

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+1 I agree that honesty is likely the best approach. I was quite a bit older (around 12 years) when my parents decided against telling me right away that a great-grandparent had died because we weren't so close and they didn't want to upset me. I was furious and hurt when I found out. "Children are amazingly good at noticing things, even if grown ups think otherwise".

(24 Apr '11, 11:58) Tammy ♦♦

I agree with what you say Tammy. Also I think that maybe the family stance with regard to death can be positively influenced by their religious outlook and how they position God in their lives.

(25 Apr '11, 06:29) Emi

We took Alexander's advice and told my daughter soon after it happened. We said that Grandma died and that meant her body stopped working. We said that we can't see her anymore. We also said that we were very sad about it and we were going to miss her. My wife added that even though Grandma was gone, she was still in our hearts and that we could talk to her and think about her all the time.

I'd like to say that my three-year-old had a profound moment of understanding, but it really wasn't like that. She just started talking about something her stuffed animal was doing. Our plan now is to answer questions as they come up.


answered 26 Apr '11, 13:57

blue's gravatar image

accept rate: 26%

edited 26 Apr '11, 13:58


I was 5 or 6 when my grandfather died. Even at that age I don't think I really understood what all the fuss was about. I remember asking my grandmother why she was smiling... There's no knowing how kids will react, I guess. But honesty is the best policy.

(28 Apr '11, 12:22) Benjol

My grand-stepmother (step-grandmother?) died last summer and I took my kids to the funeral for the benefit of my dad and grandpa. My son was under 2 so I didn't try to explain it to him. My daughter was 4 at the time, so I sat down with her and told her that Wanda had been sick and God decided it was time for her to go to heaven. I also explained that Wanda wasn't in any pain and death was nothing to fear because we get to be with God when we die.


answered 24 Apr '11, 19:40

mkcoehoorn's gravatar image

accept rate: 8%

If you are religious, I think it might be good to tell your child that you will meet again, in heaven (or whatever you believe in). I think it is comforting for a child to know there is a moment that you will all meet again. Even if it will take quite some time.

(18 May '11, 03:57) Fisherman
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Asked: 23 Apr '11, 18:26

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Last updated: 18 May '11, 09:24