Halloween and Death: Talking With Your Child

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“What’s this?” our incredibly curious toddler asked.

“A dead worm,” I responded. Hmm, I do not recall ever using the word “dead” with him. What did he make of it? I couldn’t tell him it was just a worm because he already discovered how live ones move, feel, and taste. Although “dead” didn’t seem to fully register, it continued his exposure to death.

There are going to be many conversations that are uncomfortable and to which I do not have the answers and I may wish I responded differently. I thought about the dead worm off and on for weeks after it happened especially after Halloween paraphernalia infiltrated our grocery stores weeks ago and as neighborhood yards are now decorated with ghosts, graveyards, and mummies.

“What’s this?” This is a zombie.Día de los Muertos

“What’s this?” It’s a tombstone.

“What’s this?” This is a skull.

“What’s this?” This is a plate with a Día de los Muertos design.

And so I began to wonder how do I want our children to understand and celebrate Halloween? They are quite young (2.5 and 1), but I do not think it’s too early to consider and our oldest toddler is beginning to understand.

Ultimately I would like our children to understand there are many ways to celebrate Halloween, or not celebrate it, in addition to Trick-or-Treat night and cute photo opportunites to post to Facebook and Instagram. And here! I couldn’t resist. 

 


As an elementary school teacher, I taught many students whose families did not participate in Halloween class parties or dress in costumes because of their religious beliefs. Some believed that it
is a pagan holiday associated with witchcraft and satanic worship. Other students, especially in Texas, celebrated
Día de los Muertos, a celebration and honoring of deceased family members and friends that continues to November 1st for the Catholic observance of All Saints Day and November 2nd for All Souls Day. Then as a class we also examined how Halloween is celebrated around the world. Teaching children to respect and be sensitive to each individual’s beliefs was a balancing act and multicultural approach. Through these times I deepened my own understanding and appreciation for these differences especially in honoring the lives of loved ones. I want to share this diversity awareness and tolerance with our children as well as a curiosity for learning.

Depending on a child’s age, personality, and life experiences, Halloween may be a natural time to talk about death and loved ones who have passed away. Perhaps as our children are more exposed we will use some observances of Día de los Muertos to honor and celebrate those lives.

Here are a few ways to remember those who have passed away that do not involve ghosts, zombies, or trick-or-treating:

  • Share favorite memories with the person.
  • Look through pictures of her life.
  • Enjoy a food she loved. 
  • Tell funny stories about her and remember her achievements.
  • Visit her grave. Clean and decorate it with orange marigolds, “flor de muerto” or “flower of the dead”.
  • Participate in an activity she enjoyed such as playing a special game or volunteering for an organization.
  • Include any desired religious or spiritual elements such as prayers and candles.

Death is all around us and kids are more exposed to it than we may realize. It’s in Disney movies. It’s in nature with dead worms and plants. For some children it may be in the death of a beloved pet or family member. It’s a natural part of the plant and animal experience; every living thing eventually dies.

If your child wants to know more about death, here are a few tips on how to navigate those conversations:

  • Be open to discussing death when your child is ready. Communication is easier when a child feels safe to talk and ask questions. Watch for his cues of readiness.
  • Ask your child to share what he already knows. This can help dispel any misconceptions and provide insight into his fears and worries.
  • Listen attentively and respect his views and feelings.
  • Be honest and encourage questions.
    • Keep your answers short and simple. You do not have to have all the answers but you can create an atmosphere of comfort, understanding, and openness that lets your child know there is not a right or wrong way to feel.
    • It is appropriate to express your sadness and grief. This helps children understand that other people have these feelings too and it is an opportunity to demonstrate healthy ways to cope with loss.
    • Share any spiritual beliefs as you see fitting.  
    Resources:

    Q&A Model Responses and Books for Kids About Death

    Talking to Children About Death

    Helping Children Cope with Death

    NAEYC’s Book Recommendations for Children

     

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    Jessica Carley Badolato
    Jessica Carley Badolato

    Author



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