How to Explain Heaven to a Young Child
Heaven can be a confusing idea for many young children. When a loved relative, friend or pet dies, well-meaning adults often reassure the child that they are happy and in a better place, which lies in contrast to the grief and sadness that he feels, and senses in others, about the person's absence. When your child starts asking questions, your explanation of death and the afterlife will depend on your religious beliefs. But explaining your beliefs honestly, in child-friendly terms, will answer the common questions in a child's mind about his identity and activities in heaven and relieve his fear of the unknown by clarifying what he can expect there 2. With developmentally appropriate answers, he will be better equipped to make sense of his grief in light of the hope he has for his future and eventually reuniting with his loved ones in heaven.
Reassure your child that she will still be herself but better when she asks questions revolving around the "Will I still be me?" theme, such as, "Will I be a ghost or an angel?" Though Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist beliefs differ in the specifics of heaven, all agree that believers will maintain a physical form in the afterlife or next life, rather than becoming an ethereal spirit.
Describe the specifics of what your child can expect to do in heaven; from laughing, smiling, playing and singing; to eating; exploring the universe; and praising your chosen deity. Whether you believe in the Buddhist tradition that heaven is a temporary reward for good deeds before the next reincarnation, or a permanent reward for the faithful in the monotheistic traditions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam, tell your child honestly of all the comforts and joys he can expect when he arrives in heaven, or paradise.
Tell your child that even though he and others feel great sadness now because you miss the departed loved one, he can take comfort in the expectation that he will see that person again in heaven. When he gets to heaven, grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, cousins, mom, dad, brothers and sisters will be there to welcome him so he won't be alone. Moreover, if your religion emphasizes any kind of deity, one of the key features of heaven is that your child will get to meet Him face to face and enjoy His company and receive commendation and reward for being good and kind and loving.
Explain that she can't see heaven now because she has to grow into that stage of life, like passing from childhood to being a teenager and adult. When people's bodies wear out or become too damaged for doctors to fix here on earth, God brings them to His house where He can make them fully healthy again. It's not like a door through which you can enter and return; once a person passes through, they stay in God's house and help Him get ready for more guests to come. So even though she can't go visit grandpa right now, grandpa is helping God get ready for the day when it is her turn to graduate to the next stage of life.
- HeavenQuestions.com: Heaven 4 Kids!: Real Answers to Real Questions Kids Want to Know
- National Association for the Education of Young Children: Kindergarteners Explore
- Hospice: Talking to Children About Death
- The Fred Rogers Company: Dealing with Death
- On Islam: What Happens to Children and Non-Muslims?
- Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Getty Images