Lily, July 2013 – October 8, 2014
Lily, beloved leopard frog of Sequoia Parents Nursery School, died quietly in the night last Wednesday. Lily was born at a classroom supply house and delivered to what would be her life-long home by the U.S. Mail. She led a full life, from tadpole to adult frog, delighting and educating students and their parents. Lily was a generous frog, always willing to share what she knew about metamorphosis, and inviting kids to observe her life in (and out of) the water. Lily loved crickets!
Even when lily grew legs and the ability to jump great distances, she chose to stay in her aquarium, showing her devotion to her preschool family. Lily is survived by a tadpole named Wonder Fred, a tarantula named Bob, a stick-bug named Groot, and 50 preschoolers who have learned a bit more about life.
Death is a hard topic for any of us, but especially for young children–it is a great challenge for them to grasp the meaning of the end of a relationship. Often, adults do not help, attempting to neutralize painful news by using inappropriate language: “Lily’s gone away“; “We’ve lost her”; or “Lily has gone to sleep“. All we are doing in such a situation is delaying the pain of realization (and possibly making a child afraid to sleep or wander too far from parents … “what if they lose me too?!”). There is no way to sugar coat the finality of death, and if we don’t do our best to address it clearly in the moment, we will only leave children confused as they struggle to understand what’s happened.
The death of a pet can be hard, but of course it’s nothing compared to the loss of a family member or friend. Our task is not to instill fear about the future, but to talk about death in plain and literal ways, making every effort to answer a child’s current questions simply. We don’t need to say more than we know, or to answer questions that kids aren’t asking, but we should choose language that helps them understand the truth of the situation. “Lily’s body has stopped working and we don’t get to play with her any more.”
One reason we speak about death in euphemisms is that we’re afraid to make our children sad: “Maybe if we use nicer language it won’t hurt so much.” Don’t be fooled. It will hurt a lot more when kids get the message that grief and other big emotions are somehow not allowed. That never makes grief go away, but adds a burden to never show it. Allow these feelings, and name them so that children know the feelings are normal: “We’re so sad that she died.” To do otherwise makes more confusion, because death is sad and hard and we can’t rush children (or adults for that matter) to feel differently about it.
These are the reasons we invite animals into our classrooms. Because even though it is sad when they die, we are in the business of teaching children about life, and not only the happy parts.
This post originally appeared on the Parenting on The Peninsula Blog