Dear Savvy Auntie,

Recently, my 4-year-old niece came to me and told me she had a dream that her parents died. She was so distraught, and I had no idea what to say to her. I didn't want to lie to her because the truth is that everyone is going to die someday, and we just don't know when. But that would be a terrifying thing to say to a 4-year-old and I just don't want her to worry! What should I say if the topic comes up again in the future?

Dream Weaver Auntie

Dear Dream Weaver Auntie,

It is very common for 4-year-olds to have thoughts, dreams, and questions about death. It is a developmental stage and it usually passes quite quickly. Most nursery programs plan for this occurrence by having a short-lived pet in the classroom, such as a goldfish.

If it comes up again, a good answer for your niece is that most people die when they are very, very old and her parents are still young. If she pursues it you can tell her she will probably be all grown up with a job, a family of her own, and parents that come to visit in her house when her parents are very, very old. You can reassure her that dreams are not real and give an example such as dreaming of flying or eating all the candy in the candy store.

When an adult dreams of someone dying it is usually a representation of their anger or anxiety about being abandoned. If you suspect this is the case you could talk to her folks and see if they are stifling her expressions of fear and anger and encourage them to give them support.

Unfortunately, in these times children can be inadvertently exposed to violence and death through the media and are unable to process and integrate these images and actions in their emotional systems.

The very good news is that she has a caring confidante in her Savvy Auntie!

Best of Luck,

Natalie Robinson Garfield

Originally published: July 19, 2011
Republished: February 14, 2018
Photo: bubutu

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