The Talk

It was inevitable.  I knew some day it would happen. Many parents want to postpone “the talk” or avoid it all together. One of my friends spent hours in the pet store looking for the “most replaceable” fish to avoid the topic. You know what I mean- “the talk” about death.  As a psychologist I deal with grieving every day in my office so when it came time to talk to my child . . .  I was overconfident.

The morning I saw my daughter’s “Fishy McGee” bloated and floating unnaturally at the top of his bowl I readied myself.  Worried that this vision of death was too grim for her young mind I scooped Fishy out of the bowl and gave him a “burial at sea.”  I left the fishbowl sitting empty on the table for her to initiate our first talk about death, I wanted it to go well.

Eventually my daughter made her way to the fishbowl.  She called me into the room. “Momma, where is Fishy?”  She frantically searched the floor to see if he had escaped.  I sat across from her, looking from the bowl to her tiny face.  “Sweetie, Fishy McGee died last night.”  She swallowed hard and stared at the empty bowl.  Several moments went by before she asked, “Did he melt?” Death is not pretty, I am embarrassed that my squeamishness caused us to miss out on a terrific outdoor funeral in the garden.  My daughter could’ve handled it—I was protecting myself.  I loved “Fishy” too!

Many teachable moments about death occur naturally if you are on the lookout.  The change of seasons, flowers on the table, and butterflies on the sidewalk are emotionally neutral examples of death.   These early conversations set the stage for more emotionally impacting experiences like the death of pets, neighbors, and relatives.

            “All things are born, they live for awhile, and then they die “   Charlotte the Spider

A mantra is a soothing tool that you repeat often so eventually your child will be able to self comfort with the refrain.  Years later when my daughter was in attendance for her great grandmother’s funeral she was overheard to say “it’s okay, really, it’s the circle of life.” Thank you Disney.

Summer is here and I hate to be morbid, but, there will be all types of naturally occurring examples on your neighborhood walks, vacations, and in the fishbowl.  I wish you courage in these conversations.  You’ll be glad one day that you initiated “the talk.” You may then be brave enough to talk about sex and Santa.

Here are some helpful books to read aloud:

Feelings by Aliki

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley

The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst

After the Funeral by Jane Loretta Winsch

Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley

Lisa Head

Dr. Lisa Marotta is June’s Blogger of the Month


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  1. I’m gonna hate having this convo with Annaley one day, it’s hard enough on me, I can’t imagine trying to keep it together while telling her. Thanks for the book suggestions.

    • Lisa Marotta says:

      Apparently I listed Badger’s Parting Gifts twice, it was not intentional, but it is one of my favorites. It beautifully explains that we learn from the people we love and those lessons are the memories that live forever. You will do fine.

  2. Peg Sbordy says:

    This “talk” is never easy, but is so very important. As a teacher of young children, and with my own, it has been a talk that I have had many times over the years. Your words of advice are, as always, on target and full of love and support.

    I would like to add some other books to your list:

    The Next Place by Warren Hanson

    Lifetimes by Bryan Meltonie

    The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia

    Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs by Tomie de Paola

    • Lisa Marotta says:

      Oh My Gosh! I forgot about Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs! I LOVE that book 🙂 Thank you for your suggestions I will have to check out the Hanson and Meltonie books, they are new to me. I think the Fall of Freddie the Leaf is a beautiful story, but I have found it too wordy to use with children. I enjoy it for adults though. Thanks Peg (Fabulous first grade teacher from Mass.)

  3. Oh dear, yes! With my two daughters THAT talk was around their eighth birthday (not ON their eighth birthday) and it was considerably less awkward since they were young. BUT iI am certain you have covered the basics already! It is a fine time Christine to discuss “dating boundaries” and healthy relationships with your new driver!

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