Ok, I know I'm a little young to be asking about this, but I'd rather be safe than sorry.

 

I don't have any children, (nor will I have any for a long time), But I wanted to know your thoughts on how to explain death to a child from an atheist perspective, without scaring him/her.

 

When I was a child, my dog died and my parents said that he went to heaven and he was in a better place next to god. Of course, at the time, that made me feel better. Since I was looking at it like that, it didn't seem so bad.

 

However, how do I gently explain this process to a child, in a way that it doesn't fear death and understands it.

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Death like sex is a topic parents need to discuss from the get go in calm, easy to understand words. No lying. And don't wait until a death has occurred.
When my husband died our grandchildren (twins) were young but they had been exposed to various discussions about death be it animals or friends. One thing I believe in doing is in the course of talking about favorite people in our lives, is reminding children and adults that this person wont always be with us so we need to treasure the wisdom they have to share with us. Even when a child we knew and visited often was dying we discussed what this meant in our family. What lessons was this child who was dying teaching us? As for what happens after one dies I simply use the compost pile we have as a healthy example of how everything breaks down and goes back to its original state.
This is where being homeschoolers has been fun, because we have been able as part of science lessons, study the make up of bone, blood, tissue and how these same elements are found in the earth. We have even taken one of our hens that died and buried it, so that six months and then twelve months later we could unbury it and look at how it was breaking down in the earth. Also got us very interested in getting a green burial site in our Sierra county.

I've been a parent. That makes me an expert, right? LOL

 

Anyway, I remember when my daughter of maybe 4 had to deal with the death of a pet. I had to explain to her that the pet was gone for good. I explained to her that nothing lasts forever. "Everything?" she asked. I explained that everything comes and goes. Every bird, every blade of grass, every person.

 

I left it at that.

 

Never do anything more than satisfying their curiosity. Answer their question and let them go and absorb it.

And it's the same way with sex. No info overload.

I would tell this hypothetical child that life is a gift.  If you're never born, you can never die.  But you'll never know the gift of life unless you're born and, eventually, die.  Every living thing must and will die.  It's natural.  It's okay.  Just know that Grandma was very lucky to have lived.  And you too are lucky she lived, because you wouldn't be here now if she had never lived and you would never know the unique love she brought to your life.  Always remember your Grandma and she will live in your heart always.

I just purchased a book called "Lifetimes" for my son. I think it's a wonderful, matter-of-fact explanation that everything living has a beginning and end to their lives. It talks about the lifetimes of birds, fish, trees, and humans all in the same terms. 

 

Here is a link: http://astore.amazon.com/mummumsref-20/detail/0553344021

 

This book doesn't deal with emotion more than a simple "that may be sad."  So, parents will still have to deal with feelings of loss associated with death. That job, I think, will be much easier if the child understands and is comfortable with death being a normal part of life.

It's a hard thing to go over for sure.  

 

I have a four year old and when a friends dog died (about a year ago) we simply explained that the dog died, and she will not be coming back.  We'd always miss her and it's ok to do that.  As long as we thought about her, that she would always live on in our mind.

 

It's not an easy thing for sure, and she does ask about her dad and I dying.  We simply tell her that isn't going to happen for a very long time.  

 

I hope this answers your question.

RE:We simply tell her that isn't going to happen for a very long time.

What I would say is I hope we wont die for a very very long time. Look at how many Moms/Dads died on 9/11 and they also thought they would probably live for a long long time to.

 

We always say something to the effect, that we plan on living a long long time and its why we try and make wise choices, and plan well. But that bad things can happen to good people. And then we hug the kids and reassure them we will do our best.  And as parents/family members showing day to day that we care and are doing our best is often very reassuring to kids.

  First of all, it shouldn't be explained the way it was to me, which was: be careful you don't go to hell.  Seriously, I wouldn't explain it at all until asked; then, it would depend upon the child's age and depth of curiosity.  In any case, I would assiduously avoid any hint that it is something to be feared.  Personally, I would explain it as I see it, which is that your "existence" following your death is identical to that which preceded your becoming a dynamic, corporeal entity.  Previous to that fortuitous event, the atoms that would eventually come together to constitute your body were engaged in other endeavors.   They had been around since the big bang, and they will be around at least until the universe turns cold.  Along their eternal odyssey they agglomerated to make something that breathed, ate, defecated, and thought - you.  Later they will become disarticulated and move on to other functions.  You have no more to fear from death than you have to reflect upon a memory of suffering before birth.  My personal definition of "eternity" is that span encompassed between my birth and death; "eternity," in fact, has a different meaning for each and every living thing.  In this sense, we all live "forever."  Nothing outside of that conceptual framework, including "God," has any meaning or consequence.

When I had to do this, I opted to tell them that we all came from the stars, one day we'll return to the stars, and that ________ has begun his/her journey back to the stars. Sure it has some technicalities, but it's not necessarily untrue and it has a nice "heavenly" ring to it.

there is a book edited by Dale McGowan called "Parenting Beyond Belief" that you may want to look into.

I tell my kids it will probably be no different than it was like before they were born. 

My grandma died when I was 4, and I remember that my mum must have explained the whole heaven thing then. I don't remember the details - what I remember is that she was depressed for a while, and that I did not understand why the adults went on with fairytales (the whole heaven thing).

She apparently still believes in it, since when my cats died and when my dad died she's always explaining how they went to heaven.

 

I'd have been way happier with a simpler explanation. How I'd explain it is "to die is like to wake up from a dream that was your life" as that's just poetic. Or that your body ceases to exist, and what comes after is a great argument with most religions. What comes after, if anything, is something everyone will see once they are there. I think Hindus are at least economic - it would be a terrible waste to throw away all souls after one use. And even if one'd be born again as something at some other point of time and somewhere else, it'd still be from zero.

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