My four-year old brother, Daniel, now has a new toy: a moderate-sized green apple.
They were in a bowl on the reception desk at a hotel in Gatwick Airport. At first he was incredibly pleased with it, in the way that only small children can be, showing it off and even rolling it on the floor a bit. The next morning, he proudly showed it to the (very nice) woman at the check-in place. A few hours ago, in our totally gorgeous ‘residence’ in Croatia, he got Mum to play hide-and-seek with it and, apparently spontaneously, christened it Harry.
Yes, I find this extremely cute and funny, but I’m worried for him too. If it was a stone or a stick (both of which he collects frequently at home) it would be fine, but Harry, being organic matter, will eventually start to go mouldy. And then what are we going to do with it? He, like practically every kid, gets attached to toys (I’ve still got a whole pile of them I can’t bear to cast aside). I’m not fussed about the apple, you understand- but I love Daniel, I hate him being sad and I don’t know how he’d react to Harry effectively dying.
That’s another thing- how do you explain death to a little kid? When do they start actually asking about it? I know he knows words like ‘died’ and ‘kill’, and he’s watched films like The Incredibles, Tangled and Frozen, but I’m pretty sure he doesn’t fully understand the finality of it when the character falls off a massive tower and doesn’t move again, or their boat is swallowed by a wave while sad music plays. When Mum chucked a dead bee out of the door a long-ish while ago, he believed it had just flown away.
How do you help young children cope with loss, whether it’s a toy left at the park or the death of a family pet, or even another person? And how long does it take for us to fully understand what it means to die? Advice appreciated.