Questions about dying are normal at age 4 to 5

Parent Q&A

November 22, 1998|By T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. | T. Berry Brazelton, M.D.,New York Times Special Features

Q. Our 4-year-old daughter occasionally asks if she will die. When I try to answer her and tell her that it is a very, very long way off, she becomes scared.

How can I answer this question and put her mind at ease?

A. This is a normal question at 4 to 5 years of age. You are answering it correctly, so your daughter may have something else on her mind. I am not sure what your child is asking, so try to see whether these ideas fit:

At this age, children are becoming afraid of their own more violent, aggressive feelings. "Do I deserve to be punished?" they wonder.

Another fear that is developing is: "Will I be deserted?" Any experience they've had with death or the loss of a pet or relative may have convinced them that to die is to be left or to be alone.

A third underlying question may be: "Will you die and leave me?" You can assure your daughter that you would not willingly leave her and that you hope to be there always to take care of her.

Being fearful is part of the process of becoming more aware of one's thoughts and feelings. It's a fascinating step in your daughter's development. Don't be too serious about it or you might add to her concerns.

Q. I am the mother of four, with one on the way. My two oldest children were easy to potty train, but my third, who is 3, hasn't been quite as easy.

This hasn't affected me, but my husband really yells at her when she wets herself. Sometimes he spanks her. When she cries, he tells her to shut up, that she's a baby.

This hurts me, and I believe it is really affecting her. I want to help her. I love my husband, but I can't stand seeing this anymore. I need good advice, the right book - something!

A. I couldn't agree with you more. Your daughter's toilet training should surely be up to her, not to you or your husband.

Read my book "Touchpoints" (Addison Wesley, 1992), which has a chapter on toilet training and the dangers of too much pressure. Show it to your husband.

My advice is to put your daughter back in diapers. Apologize to her and tell her that using the potty is entirely up to her and that you'll help her when she wants you to. But don't mention it otherwise.

She may be regressing because of your new pregnancy. With three siblings and a baby on the way, how can she hold a place in your family if she doesn't set herself up as a rebel? Good for her!

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, care of the New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

Pub Date: 11/22/98

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