Your guide has found you a kill: this is what you’ve all been waiting for! But then an innocent voice asks, “Mom, why is Simba eating Pumba?”.
We don’t often consider that nature can be traumatic for a child – or an adult. A guest recently had to comfort their child well into the night after experiencing a predator eat its prey, because there had been no preparation for the child.
So how do you deal with this issue with your children? How do you answer the questions about the deaths they may see in nature, without scaring your child? Here are some things to consider when talking about the inevitability of death in nature with kids.
Tips for dealing with death in nature
Talk to your children before your trip
It’s useful to think ahead, and talk to your kids about what they may see on safari. Avoid the goriest of details, but include enough to paint an honest picture of a wilderness scene and the reality of Mother Nature.
Look at nature closer to home
For younger children, get out into your local forest, park or even garden. Talk about what wildlife you see, talk about how each animal, bird or insect lives: how long it lives and what it eats.
Do some reading
If your children are aware of our own mortality, and particularly yours or their own, this can be very scary for them. Consider reading books which introduce death according to your beliefs, or introduce non-threatening ideas about death. A couple of our favourites are:
– Waterbugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney for youngsters but really anyone of any age as it’s such a lovely book.
– Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin for teenagers
Watch the Lion King together
A straight-forward way of introducing the concept of death in nature is by framing it in the concept of the Circle of Life. A good introduction can be found in watching the award winning Disney’s Lion King movie or musical together. (As if we needed an excuse to watch that Disney favourite again and again). The story focuses on Simba the lion from Kenya who gets up to all sorts of mischief as we watch him grow into the king he was meant to be. But as part of the story, the concept of the Circle of Life is introduced.
The Great Circle of Life
- The .The ‘Circle of Life’ in the Lion King focusses on the concept that each creature, plant and being has its own place in life’s cycle. is nature’s way of taking and giving back life to the earth. If a creature or plant dies, it’s not in vain – death gives continued life to another. Explain to the little ones that each animal plays a vital role in the environment, and each has its own life circle. Every species depends on the others for survival, and eating other species is part of the role of the carnivores.
- Lions play a key role in the food chain by helping to control the plains game populations. It is important that they understand the impact it will have should a healthy balance not be maintained in the wild.
Disney’s Lion King summarised this so well when Mufasa, Simba’s father, explains the importance and the power of the Circle of Life to a young Simba:
Mufasa: “Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.”
Young Simba: “But dad, don’t we eat the antelope?”
Mufasa: “Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so, we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.”
While this may seem like a slightly intimidating concept to explain at first, many parents are pleasantly surprised to discover that their children are ready to accept this information, perhaps having intrinsically known it all along.
If you can’t get your hands on a copy of the Lion King, we’d be only too happy to offer our renditions of the key songs if you give us a call.