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November 26, 2007


Dale McGowan

Oh...my goodness. That was a marvelous read. Thank you.

I don't know if you're aware of my book or the parenting resources associated with it, but we'd be delighted to have you drop in on our secular parent discussion forum if you'd like.

I am burning with envy to see that you live in Berkeley! I went to Cal 81-86, as did my wife, and we miss it terribly.

Dale McGowan
Editor/co-author, Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion


Dale, thanks so much for your comment. I did not know about your book, and I am thrilled to find a resource for me and my wife! I'm ordering a copy. I will also drop by your forum.

If you and your wife make it back to Berkeley sometime, my wife and I would love to have you over for a visit. It's always great to meet engaged parents -- and talk kids!


Deborah Rifkin

I think the easiest way to teach young children about death is to relate it to the natural life cycle of a flower. It’s tangible. It’s understandable. It’s not scary. It’s not lying.

Things are born (planted), grow, bloom, come into their season, die, go away, become part of the earth. And the next season a new flower will grow. In time, you can extrapolate that to your and your wife's beliefs of life and death.

I think if you tell them too much too soon, even with the best intentions, it’s scary for them. At the ages of your children they internalize it as, "will my parents die?" And the most important thing is for them to feel safe and secure and not worry about mommy and daddy getting sick and dying.


Great blog. I'm so glad to see so many other Athiests out there. My parents gave me a choice. I could decide whatever church I wanted to belong to. I couldn't, at the age of 10, figure out how there could be so many religions claiming they were right! So I told my parents I wanted to be an Athiest, like them! I hate feeling like an outsider, I try to hide my beliefs from people and avoid having friends that are religious. I know that can be considered as having a closed mind, but I don't want people around me that can believe in such NON-SENSE! C'mon already, do you believe in Santa Claus, too?! Oops, sorry about the rant. Once again, great site, you have a new reader!


When you realize the earth you walk on, the earth that produces food and flowers and the trees that shade you in the heat of summer, that the water you drink, the food you eat, the air you breathe--contains the essence of billions of past lives--plant, animal, human--that is wonder and majesty enough.


A thoughtful entry--this is my first exposure to your blog, and judging from this post I will be back.

My Grandfather, with whom I was very close, died when my son was just under two years old. Because we visit his grave regularly, talk about him and keep his picture up, we seem to have maintained my son's memory of him. It's wonderful that he still remembers him (however faintly), but because of our frequent discussion of someone who is no longer with us, we have touched on our first discussions of death with our son, who is now four years old.

The first time it came up, when he was closer to two, I naively told him that when people die, they go to the moon. Now that he's interested in the solar system, and understands what the moon is (and that we've been there), that little ruse is falling apart. It's time to be honest.

My wife and I have discussed this topic at length (along with religion), and while I do believe it's important to be truthful with children, I think that the specter of death (I mean, I'm afraid of it, aren't you, just a little?) is a bit heavy to deal with until you're significantly older. How old? I guess it depends on the person. For now, we just tell him (and our daughter, when she's old enough to ask) that when people leave this earth, we don't know where they go for sure. And we focus on the manner in which we *are* sure that they're with us: in memories.

Side note: I definitely plan to investigate 'Parenting Beyond Belief'.


Wow, your kids are going to grow up thinking that they can make their own rules and live life however they want. I dont know what kind of church you go to but without guidance from the good book, your children will be lost, that is unless they retain some common sense and understand that that this world came from God and didnt just somehow explode from a big bang that eventually would lead to complex life. Darwin was an idiot and so are ppl that cant see God and the justification for a divine creator. Hell, if I was your kid i would go out and rob banks, and steal from others, and kill whoever I wanted when i had the power to do so. Why not if their is no god. Yor logic is flawed and if you believe in the power of anti religious ppl and your "faith " in ppl....look at the world around you...ill take my chances with God.


Robert, you are saying that without something invisible having the possibility of punishing you when you die, you would steal and murder? Do you not have respect for human life separate from your religious beliefs? How does that make people who DON'T need the fear of something that can't be proven, idiots? Please check the news, and see how much bloodshed there has been in the name of Christianity and every other religion before you tell the author he is creating an immoral child. Do you think everyone sitting in prison is an atheist?

The only one who is supposed to judge in your religion is your god...by calling people idiots, you are passing judgement, taking his role...which I believe is a sin.

This was a wonderful article, the thought you have put into what you will tell the children shows how much you want to do right by them. I do agree that unless the question is pressed, the topic of death can wait. Comparing the life cycles of animals or plants is a good way to do it, something tangible that is less scary. With a focus on the now, instead of the future, since we never know.


Interesting read. I did something similar to PP Deborah - telling the truth as is age appropriate. My son is nearly 6 and without any of the scary, gory details about death he knows that animals/bugs/plants/etc go into the ground and then help new things grow. We've done home studies on earthworms, plants, and talked about how plants help animals/people grow and then the animals/people help the plants grow. Then we watched Lion King and danced around the living room to Circle of Life (haha... sort of a joke?).

We don't tell him to believe one way or the other. He's learned to say "God bless you" when someone else sneezes because other family members do that. But he also says "Excuse me" when he sneezes because of what we've taught him about manners. When he asks why other people do different things, then I tell him the truth as plainly as I can (ie: "They think that when you sneeze ghosts get into your body and make you sick.").


I was happy to read this blog today. I stumbled upon it in search of non-religious books discussing death with small children. It seems you and I are rather like minded in how we want to approach this with our children. It is always nice to find others with the same ideas/approach out there.


I agree with the posting from Robert....Christianity is NOT a religion, it is a relationship with the Lord. Please be more educated and read the Bible..It will be the WISEST choice for you & your family's eternity. Prayers are sent your way..


Robert you could not be more wrong about what you have said.

My husband and I are not religious, we are leaving it up to our daughter if she wishes to be or not.

For death when she asks about her nanny's we tell her that they died. I have been wondering what else to say when the time comes and I rather like the analogy of the flower.

My father tells her that her nanny is gone to heaven and every time I have to correct him and tell him that we do not believe that way and would rather him not say things like that which will just confuse my daughter. If later in life she decides that living in fear of an invisible, un-prooving being is something that she wishes to partake in then that will be her choice but for now we live our lives for us and that is how she will grow up in our house.


I'm going through the same situation with my 3 year old and her father. It was a very unexpected tragic accident. I feel like givin the circumstances, luckily for her situation he wasn't "there one day and suddenly gone the next." Because he truthfully wasnt around his last year of life. I refused to take her to the funeral.. its not how I wanted her to remember him. (as a child's perspective: not breathing and in a box, with everyone around him crying, and speaking of religious ridiculousness) I know my daughter and seeing him in that state would not have been beneficial for her. She at that time she was learning about families in daycare, she began to think she never had a father. When she would meantion of him, I found myself saying "he's gone, and won't come back", because I don't believe in filling her head with religious visions. If later in life she goes that route, then its her choice. We have visited the grave. I can tell she is still confused.
I want her to understand that her father did existand care about her, and I show her pictures of the two of them. I've looked up explaining death to young children online.. which all says, he's with the angels, heaven, god, looking down on you. Suggests support groups or psychologist. I obviously disagree with this. I am in the medical field and experience deaths often, just wasn't a topic I expected to have to teach my child at a young age, however waiting until she is a little older to better understand death is no longer the answer. Death is the only guarantee in life. Glad to come across your post, and some other similar helpful comments.


Hi Meg,
I'm so sorry to hear of your loss. It sounds to me that you taking such care to be honest and loving with your girl. Since I wrote this post (way back in 07) my family has been dealing with the fear of death much more directly. My wife has cancer. So I have had to confront this more often. I still consider it important to stay honest and not promote false comfort, while also recognizing that it is painful and scary to deal with the threat of death to anyone we love. The most important thing, I think, is to go through it TOGETHER. Children watch us for cues, and if they see us cry or feel confused, that is fine, because they also see us recover, get lunch ready. That way they actually learn to model our strength, which of course is not a cartoonish version of strength but a real one, involving ups and downs and using resources and friends and carrying on. Best wishes to you. Tom

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