Too young for ‘the talk’? Playschool death segment for kids stirs debate

ABC program Playschool will tackle the issue of talking to kids about death for the first time in an emotional, yet informative episode. Source: Twitter/ News Breakfast

Popular kids show Playschool will tackle the complicated issue of talking to children about death for the first time in an emotional episode of the ABC program.

The episode, which airs on televisions across the country this week, discusses the death of a character’s grandpa and how she feels to have lost someone so special in her life. Using a book to explain the process, episode writer Emma Palmer uses a calm manner when approaching the topic – explaining how empty some feel when a loved one has passed away.

While for some the topic may be taboo – with families waiting until kids are at least in primary school before explaining what it means to die – Playschool producers decided the time was right to add it into the show and help others begin the conversation in their own homes. Speaking about her role in the episode, Emma explained on ABC News Breakfast on Monday morning how important it is to discuss death with kids and how she used her position as a mum to a four-year-old to help her approach the segment.

The mum, who was pregnant at the time of filming with another child, said it’s best to bring up the topic of death before a person they know does die to make the process easier and less traumatic on the whole family.

“So often we don’t talk about these issues until they become an issue and that’s really hard to tackle that stuff when you’re experiencing some kind of trauma or grief or loss,” she explained on News Breakfast. “Start the conversation when you’re in a sunny phase of life as a family so you can equip those preschool kids to cope in more difficult times.

“It can be as simple as talking about a leaf falling from a tree that’s crinkled and clearly doesn’t have signs of life anymore or you can start the conversation through animals. Start it in a gentle way and then tailor it for your family.”

While pleased to approach the topic on the show for the first time in history, Emma said it did bring about some challenges and emotions as she remembered the losses she has experienced in her life. The presenter explained with advice from the National Centre for Childhood Grief, she had to be quite blunt and upfront with death and be sure not to confuse kids with phrases like “passed away”.

“The advice we received was that you’ve got to be really frank, use direct language with kids, you can’t speak euphemistically,” she told hosts on News Breakfast. “If you use a phrase like passed away that doesn’t mean anything to a child or that Grandpa’s up in the sky, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything to them, in fact it can cause more confusion, is Grandpa going to fall from the sky?”

Emma added: “As adults we cushion it for fear we actually have to look the issue directly in the eye. If you speak specifically with kids, they get it. That gives them the clarity they need in such a confusing time.”

Also speaking about the episode on ABC Radio Melbourne Breakfast, Senior Producer of Playschool Bryson Hall said while the episode may make children cry, that is a normal reaction and part of life.

“It’s a really beautiful episode, it’s really fun,” he explained. “If we didn’t cry at these things that would probably be more worrying … it’s alright to cry and that’s a big thing that comes into this … even if your child does cry in this episode, that’s okay, they have feelings.”

Meanwhile, others have weighed in on the episode and Playschool’s decision to tackle to the topic, with many taking to social media to voice their opinions.

“Bravo … respectful, simple and classy explanation … as it should be,” one person commented on Twitter. “Have Jemima, Little Ted and Big Ted expressed their approval? If it’s okay by them then it’s okay by me.”

Another added: “This is so fabulous. I often talk to parents struggling with what to say to their kids when someone is dying or dies. Including the kids in what is going on and providing simple, honest explanations is the way to go. Well done Playschool.” While a third said: “What a great way to help children and families start important conversations about life and grief.”

However a few people weren’t so sure it was the best idea, with one person commenting: “Why won’t marxists just let ‘kids be kids’ ?! G’Day.”

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When do you think is the right time to talk to kids about death? How did you bring up the topic with your own children?

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