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“…and then he was dead.”
“The knife cuts your hand your blood will pour out and you will be deaded.”
“Shoot you.”
(mimicking karate chop with her hands)“chop, chop, chop you. Cut, cut, cut you.”
“What is dead?”
“Kill kill.”

Well these are some pearls of wisdom that are dispersed by Chula and Mieja now a days. My first reaction was shock. I had never talked about the concept of death to the kids. Even while I tell them Hindu mythological stories demons always receive time outs. My MIL has never completed a mythological story, she gazes at me uncomfortably when a god/goddess is at the verge of destroying an asura and stops the story abruptly. When the children ask questions about R’s father who passed away when R was 15, the answer is either, “He is with Ganesha” or “He is floating in the universe watching what we are doing.” My aunt tells them only stories like Avayaar or Karaikaal Ammayar because these stories have no violence. The school they go to has peace education as a part of its curriculum. The school has strict policy against characters of any sort in their lunch bag/shoes/clothing/personal item. Super hero play is highly frowned upon. In spite of shielding them from violence, the girls getting this kind of language blew me apart.

The thing is, how much ever you strip their environment of realities such as death and violence, they some how get an idea that cutting, chopping, killing, death exist. They hear it used by other kids who in turn have heard some other child/older sibling use it. They are so fascinated by this new concept. They aren’t sure if people at home are aware if things like these exist. They test the waters by letting one or two words slip and judge the reaction of the adults. If the adult freaks out, they make a mental note of the reaction and they decide to investigate it by themselves behind the adult’s back or they deliberately use it again and again till they fully understand it. Chula would go with option I and Mieja would most definitely choose option II.

I remembered reading about a Reggio Emilia teacher who introduced a gun curriculum – gun/rifle/shooting for preschoolers, because she noticed increasing gunplay in her classroom. She brought an old gun/rifle to classroom that the children touched and handled, pictures of the internal mechanisms of how a gun works etc. The teacher allowed the children to explore and learn about guns in a safe and supervised environment. After a month, pretend gunplay went down. After much deliberation I decided to try something new. When I heard words like shoot or kill or dead, I asked Chula/Mieja what they meant by that. As I guessed they didn’t know much.

“Dead is dead amma”,

“Kill? To be deaded?…..I don’t know….*giggles followed by more giggles*”,

“Cut? Your hand will get chopped and it will fall off and your eyes will also fall….may be we can throw all that in the garbage can.”,

“When your hands get cut a new hand will grow, just like your hair and nails. We can keep chopping them, its okay.”

So when I hear violent talk, I respond to it in a calm tone,

“Why do you want to kill me? I will go away and will never come back. Is that something you would like?”(Yes, they do want to kill me at times, looks like it is something they like. When I say I will never come back, it seems to open endless possibilities to them :) ) or

“Yes, when your sister’s hand gets cut, the blood vessels will get cut and there will be lots of blood. We have to go to the hospital immediately. Your sister will be in unbearable pain and appa and amma will be very sad. What do you think of it?” or

“That would hurt my body” or

“It hurts my feelings when you pretend that you are shooting me”

Few months back we found a dead mourning dove under our lemon tree. I took the girls and showed them the bird. I pointed out that the bird was no longer moving. I told them that it could never see its mommy/babies. The girls observed that the bird is not chirping, they also pointed out that its feathers were starting to disintegrate. Chula noticed that ants were eating the carcass and wondered if it would hurt the bird. We talked about the dead bird for a good amount of time. R took the bird and threw it in the garbage can while the girls watched. Over the next few days there were questions like,

“I see a bird in the tree there, is it the same bird we saw under our lemon tree?”,

“Can the dead bird come as a new born baby in the nest in front of our house? (There was a family of dove reproducing in a nest in our front porch)”,

“Where is the dead bird now?”,

“Okay the bird is dead. What happens then? Okay it is with Ganesha, what next? Okay, its spirit is floating in the universe, what comes next?”,

“When you are dead you go to Ganesha. So aren’t you doing a good thing by killing? You are sending people to Ganesha.”,

“How does a bird’s spirit look like? Will it look like the bird? Will my spirit look like me?”

so on and so forth.

But how much ever one tries, can death be full demystified to any one especially to preschoolers?  :)

[tags]death, sorrow, loss, explain death to preschoolers, children talk about death, what do children understand about death[/tags]

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