How would one explain the death of a pet fish to a three year old?
I've had to explain many fish deaths, a frog death, and a hedgehog death to my 3 year old...
I just tell her that they died and it means they're not coming back. In the case of our hedgehog he was sick for a while leading up to it so I tried to put a positive spin on it by saying that he wasn't sick anymore, he got to sleep now, etc. We had a burial for him and she said goodbye.
With the fish it's a bit more frequent and less noticeable so I just say that the fish died (which she now at least sort of understands to mean 'not alive' and not coming back) and she gets sad but she says goodbye and then asks if the fish gets to sleep now...to which I say yes, it's like the fish is sleeping but it won't wake up. She seems pretty okay with that.
I know some people like to steer clear of death with young children but I personally feel that being honest about it from the beginning is healthy. I mean obviously you're not going to explain the gory details to a 3 year old, but trying to explain it honestly without making it a big, scary thing is what I feel is best.
You don't really need to overthink this thing for a three year old. If the child seems to miss the deceased fish (which if it happens at all, will only last a few moments), then just replace it.
Three is not an age to try to explain the mysteries of life and death. The one thing not to do is lie. State the truth simply and answer any subsequent questions, if any, just as simply. No drama, no wringing of hands or gnashing of teeth.
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