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what do i tell my kids?

My wife and I are trying to have kids, and one day the subject of death is going to come up. What do I tell them? I don't want to lie to them, but at the same time I don't want them freaked out, loosing sleep at night. I used to do that, my mother told me no one knows what happens after you die, some people believe in heaven. Could I use heaven as a little white lie, like Santa? Or does that cause more harm than good? Any advice would be welcome

Existential doubt is something that atheists have to deal with. I think it's great that you're concerned about how your kids will deal with death. It's not a pleasant subject, but I think it's one of main ways religions get their hooks into people and begin to control them, so it's good you're getting ahead of the issue.

It used to be that people were less freaked out about death. I think living next to animals helps a lot with that, personally. Some animals are food and their death serves a purpose. Other animals are pets and there's grieving that goes with the loss. If you have family pets, the subject will come up and they'll get more used to the idea that we'll all die by learning that their pet hamster or turtle died.

I'm not sure an abstract discussion is that helpful, unless they have specific things to talk about. On the other hand, showing your comfort in talking about death will make it less scary. As with all issues that touch on religion, I think it's very appropriate to share what you believe and why and help them understand what others believe. Inoculate your kids against fear of death, if you can by saying that others believe in a heaven and hell, but they don't have any good reason for that belief. Tell your kids that they often use that belief to threaten people and control them and make your kids aware that it's part of a game of sorts, to get people to believe in their religion.

One thing that you might use to comfort your kids is to ask them whether they felt any discomfort from the near-eternity of time before they were conceived (or born), then say that that's what we expect after we die. No pain or discomfort. Tell your kids that their life is precious and to make the most of it.

All this said, I'm not a parent, but just someone who dealt with my own mortality early in life. I hope this helps.

Thank you Mr. Baker. I watch your show on You Tube and love it, not a lot of atheists in southeastern oklahoma, it's nice to know there are others out there. Hope your advice works


I have a 5 yr old and a 2 yr old. The subject of death came up with my 5 yr old when she was about 3. I think we were talking about how all the dinosaurs had died, and then she asked if we were going to die, too. I was honest about death being apparently the end, and the absence of an afterlife. I mentioned that many people have made up stories about a life after death, and that quite a few people believe in these stories, even though they really don't have any good reasons to. I made a point of being calm and relaxed about the subject, and demonstrating to her that there is nothing to fear. I also went down the avenue of pointing out to her that not existing before she was born didn't seem to bother her in the slightest.

She has since brought up death a few times. For instance, when I'm tucking her in to bed and I tell that I will love her forever, occasionally she replies, "Even after you die?" So I think she gets it, but she's not particularly bothered by it. Certainly no nightmares or anything like that. We treat it as a normal part of life, and when our dog dies someday, we'll have another opportunity to discuss it and deal with it in an appropriate way.

I have no problem with the Santa myth, and both of my kids eagerly put out cookies and milk for Santa on Xmas eve. But on a subject of this importance, I think honesty from the beginning is the best way to develop a mature understanding of the phases of life. It just feels like a healthy way to deal with serious stuff in our house.

Also, people who tell their kids there's a heaven might have to come up with answers to questions like:

"Does everybody go to heaven?" "If not, who decides who goes?" "If you don't go to heaven, where do you go?" "Hell? What's that?"

Hello nightmares...

No thanks. :)

Why bother saying anything? Believe me they will eventually figure it out :)

Are you kidding? Why say anything to my kids when they ask me an important question? Perhaps the most important question. I'm supposed to just tell them "You'll figure it out someday"? Sorry, I don't parent like that

Well, it seems to be better than bullshitting your children, which to me is your alternative. Tell your children what ever makes you feel better about yourself, because that is exactly what your doing. Also, you assume it is the most important question. Here are some other important questions- why have kids? or how about why bother living at all, considering it is so short and nothing really matters in the end. But, of course you already have some bullshit answers ready don't you?

Wow. I was just trying to get some advice from other atheist parents who've dealt with this before. Don't know why you got so angry.

As to why you should have kids. I don't know if I can explain it to someone who doesn't have them, can't explain the happiness it brings to your life, the completeness. You shouldn't have kids though, doesn't seem to suit you. I'll ignore your other questions as they are pointless.

Any advice from other parents would be welcome

Lee, My wife and I have two kids: a three year old girl and an eleven month old boy. We have had long discussions about how we will educate them about the big unanswerable questions.

In short, we decided to be honest. Saying "I don't know" early in a child's life teaches them a valuable lesson. When most other parents are lying to their kids we would be allowing them to think freely and realize that it is okay not to have all the answers. Then the second thing I would say is "Why does it matter what happens when we die if we don't know?"

I believe that whatever it is you say around your child, the less lies you tell them, the better off they will be.

P.S. We plan to celebrate x mas in our own little way: exchanging gifts and maybe an upside down tree on the celing, but no Santa.... But thats just us.

I had an argument with my father about that death and Santa "problem" not too long ago when i told him i wouldn't lie to my children about such things since i believe it would only confuse them and and eventually point them into the wrong direction.. Especially because i believe, that if you teach a kid that fooling oneself to comfot oneself about unpleasant topics is ok, it could apply that strategy to other situations it some day gets in and might not deal with them optimally. For instance, if they think they will go to heaven if they are good, no matter how crappy life treats them, it is god's plan for them and they don't even need to think about it because they are too stupid to understand it, they could also think if somebody is raping them or lets say just taking away their possesion unlawfully, it might be a part of the big plan so they don't need to fight it or even find it unjust.

And about the easterbunny/santa thing i said i don't want to encourage it to believe in such miracles and to prevent their logic to analyse such claims just because all the kids believe it. The argument that they get a present doesn't justify that, giving the kid a present will make them happy anyway. Also if the kid wasn't really behaving or knows it did something bad that we know or don't know about, and it gets a present from "Santa", it might think that they didn't do anything wrong or that it doesn't matter if they do something wrong because "Santa" awarded them anyway.

Also i find it sad that some parents, who have almost a divine status over their kids at some point, deliberately smash their questions like "but how can Santa visit all the kids in one night" "how does Santa know i was good or i wasn't" "how can a rabbit carry eggs and hide them allover the world" or "what does a bunny have to do with jesus becoming a zombie (to put it in my words)" etc by giving them moronic explanations and discouraging them to just stop believing such crap. He wasn't so mad at me about not teling my kid it would go to heaven or hell as he was about the santa thing.. He said it is cruel to take the fun out of something kids like to imagine.. so if they enjoy imagining car explosions or killing people i should probably encourage that as well? I can't say "lying to yourself is ok based on things i approve with your my moral compass". I would like my kid to think for itself so encouraging it to think and help them seperate fantasy from reality is very important to me.

Nowadays living in imaginary worlds get you into the loony bin, unless you write a book and make a movie about it hahaha.

To get to the point with what you can tell your kids about dying.. In some cultures people celebrate someone's death, i can't agree with that being the way to go, that might as well turn them into the wrong direction like "oh well if dying is such a good thing here we go" being the last thought before jumping off a building. Instead we should treat it as a neutral event that was happening long before we came to be and that without other living beings dying we would not be here in first place.

I personally find it saddening to find out one is going to die but it is part of life, and the end of life. And it is a very important part of life which we can't deny or make go away. Justifying it with fairytales doesn't help, feeding them the hell/heaven concept is like saying "well yes we have pollution and yes we have global warming but for each degree we heat up the world deliberately, an angel gets it's wings, unless you did it by smoking, then you kill the easter bunny".

Also i find it very important to learn to deal with such situations without shutting off your logic and reason, so instead of lying to my kids about dying i will try to explain them that people were always dying and will keep dying, its just what it is, nothing good or bad, just part of life and that life itself is a gift they should cherish and enjoy with others, and that the goal should be leaving a legacy for the future generations and trying to make it possible for them to enjoy life as well.

My personal goal in life is that others can drop the Spok line on my funeral "he lived long and prosper"

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