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what do you tell your children?

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Helen Sos

what do you tell your children?

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We recently had a neighbour die. It's the first experience my 4yo daughter has had with someone she knows dying and she is quite worried now about herself dying when she gets old, especially not seeing her family, friends and toys anymore. I don't want to fill her head with fantasies and stories about heaven. My question is what do other atheists tell their children about death?Helen
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Re: what do you tell your children?

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Good old reality. I explain things to my kids as there are. People die. I explain the life cycle, the life span and the ways to be careful and not die a silly death. To be responsible to themselves and others, but life should be enjoyed as much as possible.My kids have had a few people die in their lives, and they are absolutely fine with it. It hurts, but the understand the reality of it all.And I think that is BECAUSE we did not tell them the silly crap about god and heaven.* I am not looking to debate my comments...just helping Helen with my thoughts.Mr. P. The one thing of which I am positive is that there is much of which to be negative - Mr. P.The pain in hell has two sides. The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart...Scorsese's "Mean Streets"I came to kick ass and chew Bubble Gum...and I am all out of Bubble Gum - They Live, Roddy Piper
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Chris OConnor

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Re: what do you tell your children?

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I think complete honesty without too much emphasis is the best approach. Everyone dies and they have to know this and respect this fact. Your kids will be fine accepting reality.The myths that kids have to endure at the hands of mystics is horrifying. When I was a kid I believed in a god that kills his own children, a devil, ghosts, demons, witches and a boogeyman. Telling your kids the truth will be no worse psychologically than any of this other hocus focus nonense.Best wishes.Chris
marti1900

Re: what do you tell your children?

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It's easier if your family has had pets that have died in the home. Then you have a foundation from which to talk about grandma, etc.Athiest or no, it is not very comforting to a small child to be told that the deceased has simply ceased. Telling them that the person or pet has gone to some vague heaven to be with some previously deceased person and pet where they will always be happy and free of pain is much kinder, no matter what your personal beliefs.And I disagree with Chris about complete honesty. Heck, how honest were you all about Santa? And yet every child learns in good time about Santa. And every child will develop in good time their own beliefs about god and an afterlife.I'm all about creating comfort, not more pain. You can't look at a child's view from an adult perspective.Marti in Mexico
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Chris OConnor

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Re: what do you tell your children?

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MartiGood points. I don't have any kids yet, so I'm speaking from ignorance. The Santa thing makes the point well.Chris
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tarav

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Re: what do you tell your children?

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Helen,I would prepare my children in the way that Nick explained(life cycles, reality)before a death. Just like with any important event(sex, moving, first day of school)discussing such manners before they happen helps children cope with stresses. I do understand that you are looking for opinions on what to do once the death has happened. I would incorporate Marti's idea of comfort by instilling the idea that the loved one will always remain in your memory and in your heart. This may sound cliche', but it is comforting without being religious or a lie. I don't think that we should use silly, inaccurate ideas to comfort, when there are alternatives that can work just as well. As an athaeist who has lost loved ones, I found the religious crap spewed at me very discomforting. Edited by: tarav at: 9/17/05 12:19 pm
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Re: what do you tell your children?

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This is an interesting thread. One of the reasons religion exists is to help us cope with the painful facts of life, such as that good people die horrible deaths, innocent people suffer, evil people live prosperously till old age, and all people will eventually grow old and die.Religious myths are there to pacify our thirst for answers. These myths don't actually answer anything, but they keep people from having to deal honestly with the harsh realities of life. They make life easier.But is it worth it? Is lying worth it in the long run? What a question. I'm of the mindset that more harm is caused than good. I think Nick and Tara share the same view, from what I'm reading.About the Santa myth - this one might be a poor analogy. The myth of Santa exists to add magic and excitement to a young persons world. Santa isn't a trick to keep kids from accepting something painful that they need to learn to be educated adults. And the myth of Santa is a temporary one...just for fun.The problem with telling a kid that their dead mommy is in heaven is that you cannot retract this EVER. What do you do when they get a little older?Quote:"I'm sorry to have to say this Johnny, but remember when I told you that your mother died because God needed her in heaven and now she is living in total peace and eternal happiness? Remember that? Well, I lied. God is a myth and heaven doesn't even exist. The reality is your mother died a very painful and slow agonizing death because sometimes people get cancer. Science doesn't fully understand why some people get it, but everyone, including you, could someday have the same horrible fate. Johnny, your mother is actually in a box under 6' of earth almost fully rotted. There are probably ants and worms in her body. I'm sorry Johnny, but your mom is gone forever and ever. And when you die you'll be stuck in a box to rot too. And when your brain ceases to function YOU cease to exist. You won't ever see your mother again. She is gone forever."Should we say this? I like Tara's gentler technique. We can be honest with children without throwing the harshness of the situation right in their faces. But death is harsh! And each of us needs to be honest with ourselves so that we appreciate the beauty of life. One day we'll all be in that box, or urn, or spread out in the sea, or whatever.Chris
Helen Sos

Re: what do you tell your children?

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Thanks, everyone, I appreciate all the input. I have taken the line with my daughter similar to Tara's that we live on in the hearts and minds of people who love us. She seems to be more worried about her own fate than our neighbour at the moment. I can see how easy it is to fall into religious explanations at times like these because you just want your kids to feel better but in the long run that would be so damaging. I agree that honesty with gentleness is the best approach so our kids do learn to make the most of their time here and now.Helen
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Re: what do you tell your children?

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Helen- I am sorry for your loss. I hope that you and your family find ways that are helpful for you in dealing with the loss of your neighbor. I am glad that the way you have begun dealing with it is a comforting, yet truthful way.
0Lion0Eyes0

Re: what do you tell your children?

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Well sounds like you have received some good advice.I don't know why exactly, but I was just pondering this the other day - how I would explain to my 2-year-old if he had to lose a loved one. I was thinking about it because a number of my friends have been losing parents and grandparents lately - actually. I was never close to my grandparents but my children are very close to both their grandparents and great-grandparents so I am sure they will have to face the reality of death sooner rather than later.Growing up in an atheist household I have to say the thought that people live on in our hearts and memories was all I ever knew and as comforting I would imagine as the idea of heaven would be.
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