Q&A: How to Explain Death to a 3 Year Old

CME WebsitesChild Development, Parent Routines

blockquote_bgOur 3 month old son passed away when our other son was 15 months old. Our 15 month old is now almost three and we now have a 5 month old daughter. We have lots of pictures around our house of all three of our children and our almost 3 year old son now asks who all the pictures are of. He usually thinks any picture of a baby is his little sister, but we always tell him who it is… if it was him as a baby, his brother, or is his sister. At what age would you expect him to develop an awareness of his brother that died. And can you give us ideas of a good approach to explain this to him when that time comes that he does become more aware of his brother?

First off, I am so very sorry for your loss. It sounds like you are doing the right thing, by keeping photos out of his brother who passed away and by telling when he asks who it is in the picture. Since he was only 15 months old when his brother passed away, not only could he not understand what happened, but he will not have a memory of him at that time. Even at age three he is not yet developmentally able to understand the concept of death. But, you are doing a wonderful thing by giving him those memories with the photos.

You could even make him his own child friendly photo album with pictures of his brother and he and his brother together and add some written memories for him regarding their short time together. There are toddler/preschool friendly books written to help children understand and cope with death; you could ask at your local library or bookstore or search Amazon.com. This is a great resource for explaining how children deal with death and learn to understand it at various age levels.