I am wondering how to explain to my daughter (almost 4 years old) about a death in the family? She has noticed the crying, the sadness. I imagine she will notice/hear something over the course of the next few days. I imagine I should wait and see if she asks/mentions anything ? Eventually she will ask for the person. What do I do?
It is important to explain what's going on around her as much as possible. Death is a topic that each individual family handles differently, depending on your values and your religious beliefs. Take a moment tonight to think about what those values and beliefs are for you and share them in an age-appropriate way with her. Be mindful not to tell her that the person is resting or in a peaceful sleep. Little ones her age are very concrete and they then attempt not to sleep to avoid dying. One way to explain death is to state something simple like "their body stopped working."
To explain the sadness around her let, her know that because everyone loves the person that died they feel sad that they won't be able to hug or touch them again. Let her know it is important to cry to let out the sad. Make sure to tell her that whenever she misses the person that died she can take a moment to feel the sadness and that she can also think about the funny, good, silly, serious times she spent with them. This is a way to help her bring up memories and be inclusive of all the feelings she may have shared with this person. Sometimes when we tell them to think about the "happy times" we burden children with being happy when they are actually mourning. Listen to her tell you stories about the person. Also when she asks questions and you feel stuck, remember to wonder with her further. For example, if she says something like "Mommy, are you going to die?" Stop-breathe-touch her gently and state "that's a big question, what made you think about that?" Then, hear her out and get to her specific question. Hope this helps. My thoughts are with you and your family.