My 2-year-old daughter, Reese, adores the Disney movie, “Frozen.” I admit, it’s a cute flick with plenty of catchy tunes and even a few good one-liners. There’s one part, however, that I’m having trouble explaining to Reese, and I fear I’ll have even more difficulty with it as she gets older.
For those of you who haven’t seen “Frozen” every single day for the past five months (or even once), beware — I’m about to partially spoil things for you. The king and queen of Arendelle, the kingdom the movie’s plot centers on, are killed in a shipwreck, leaving two orphaned teenage princesses, one of whom has natural cryokinetic-like powers that lead to her accidentally freezing, well, everything when she gets upset. To understatedly denote the passing of the monarchs, the movie includes scenes of a stormy sea swallowing up a ship and a palace servant lowering an iridescent black veil over a portrait of the king and queen.
At first, Reese didn’t think much about it. However, in the past few weeks, as those scenes flash across our television, she asks me, “What happened?” And herein lies my dilemma. How do you explain death to a 2-year-old? I’m of the opinion, at least for now, that you don’t.
Honestly, I must give Disney props for handling the matter delicately. Their roundabout way of advancing the plot has allowed me, for the most part, to sidestep the issue for now. It’s getting more complicated, though.
I feel Reese is too young to comprehend the concept of death. Even if I could explain it in terms she’d understand (and I can’t), I’m afraid it would just be too much for her to handle emotionally. On the other hand, I’m not crazy about lying to her. Usually, when she asks what happened to the king and queen, I tell her they had to go away on a long trip for awhile, and their daughters just really miss them. Thankfully, she answers, “Oh,” and turns her attention back to the movie. She’s not yet old enough to ask me when they’re coming back, but I fear that’s coming.
A colleague of mine who has a daughter Reese’s age is anticipating a similar challenge. His father passed away before his little girl was born, and he has photos of his dad hanging on the walls in his home. My co-worker’s daughter has asked who the man in the pictures is and, like Reese, was satisfied with a simple answer — for now.
As I do with nearly all parenting issues I’m clueless about, I’ve been reading up on how to explain death to young children, and most articles say they won’t be able to comprehend the idea until about 3 years old. If that’s the case, I’ve got several more months to figure this out. When the time does come, though, it seems the best policy is to be honest and try to explain the permanence of the situation in simple, straightforward terms while encouraging questions, according to the websites I’ve checked.
If I had to guess, I’d say Reese’s first encounter with true grief likely will come when we lose our golden retriever, Abbie, in a few years. Although she’s healthy and lively, our pet is now considered a “senior” by veterinary standards and has recently made the switch to eating food specially formulated for older dogs.
Although I’ll be nearly inconsolable when I no longer have my sweet, gentle pup — my first “baby” — when it comes down to it, at least it’ll be slightly easier to help Reese deal with the emotions that come with the loss of a pet rather than the loss of a human loved one.
There’s obviously no way of predicting the future or who we might lose, though, so for now, I’ll just offer prayers of thanks for the health and happiness of my family. As is always the case with raising a child, you cross each bridge when you come to it. There are plenty of things to worry about without borrowing problems.