The tipping point


We have a super little park about 3 minutes stroll from our house and If the weather is dry then we can be found there most days. We live in a neighbourhood with no through roads making it a pretty safe walk; as such I place a degree of trust in F to ride his bike ahead as long as he always stops at the curbs.

I’m proud to say he’s good at this, and for the most part, very aware of road safety; but at the end of the day he’s still just 3 years old – energetic, excitable, distractable.

The other day we were racing home (him Lightning McQueen, me Francesco Bernoulli and the baby Jeff Corvette – characters from Disney Cars if you don’t posses a child within the target demographic) when he darted out into the road without thinking. No harm done, no traffic, but that’s not exactly the point is is?

I lurched forward and pulled him back onto the pavement; I explained why what he did was so dangerous and told him he needed to be very careful of cars or he might get ‘squished‘. On reflection this was perhaps a slightly more graphic choice of adjective that I should have used, but one that stopped him in his tracks.

‘And then would you go to the shop and buy a new me?’

What happens when a toy gets trodden on, bashed a bit too hard or, um, ‘squished‘. Well depending on the strength of argument* you put forward for a replacement you may** get another one purchased for you (*tantrum **probably will).

So I guess he reasons that when an actual real life person gets ‘squished‘… well you do the same thing. Good guess kid, but it’s not the one.

No I can’t get a new you, there is only one you and that is the only one that I want.’

‘You wouldn’t want a new me?’

‘No just you, only ever you.’

‘So what then?’

What indeed. Does a 3 year old really need to know that life is not forever, that sad things happen, that people sometimes go away and don’t come back?

Not yet, not yet.

‘Don’t you worry, I won’t let you get squished OK? You just need to stick with me and be very careful crossing roads.’


And happily he zooms back up to our front door motivated by the promise of pesto pasta for lunch.

But I can’t help thinking about my 3 year olds first foray with mortality. A stumble into a new world where not everything is safe and happy and centric. A little bit of innocence lost.

It seems somewhere between the ages of 3 and 4 there is a tipping point and we are teetering on the edge of it.

And the other side? It’s not quite so peachy.




P.S. I have a new book OUT NOW! You can nab it on Amazon here or in your lovely local bookshop :)


38 thoughts on “The tipping point

  1. Amy

    My twins have been asking questions like these lately, it must be their age. It’s so difficult to answer, how much information is enough without scaring the life out of them!

  2. Juggling

    I remember when my DS was about that age and we were on holiday in Norfolk. DS was sad because his DF was sad – because his mother (DS’s granny) was very ill.
    There are several pictures of DS sitting next to DH with a very forlorn but empathetic little look on his face.
    I was proud of him really for showing such empathy and understanding to his Daddy.
    If they can learn a little bit gradually I think that’s all we can hope.

    (Hope you can all follow the Mumsnet acronyms)

    1. hurrahforgin

      That’s so sweet. I guess maybe they may understand more than we give them credit for. But at the minute he has no need to know more really, i think it almost takes something happening to make it real.

  3. Donna

    Oh that made me a little bit sad. I agree, not yet. Three is far too young to know about all the badness in life – Starting with what being squished actually means! Good on you for distracting him away from the question. Good guess for him too though ‘Would you buy a new me?’ Very cute! x


    My hairs are on end because you write so beautifully and this is a threshold no parent wants to cross and sadly there is a time, isn’t there where we gently have to explain. My son is 4 going on 14 and still asks where our cat has gone (not sure living with the vet has cut it) but I’m not ready and I’m just not sure he is either xx

  5. Mummy to boyz

    Such a tricky one and so well put. My boy caught me off guard when he tried to put a bag on his head and asked why he shouldn’t do it. The only thing I could think of was it would be a very big ouchie and mummy and daddy would be very sad because we might not see you again. x

  6. cariemay

    It is just so horribly hard to explain why without taking away that childish innocence isn’t it. As bizarre as it sounds I’m rather glad Kitty wasn’t in her current ‘why’ stage when we lost my Mum because it made life a lot easier just for her to accept that Grannie has gone to live with the angels. Ack, chalk it up on the long list of things they never covered in ante-natal class!!

  7. sarahmo3w

    A scary moment! Luckily no harm done this time and it’s usually not too hard to keep control of a child of this age. The biggest pedestrian casualties are actually aged 10-14 – old enough to be out on their own, but sadly not always old enough to have sense – especially if they want to show off to their friends!

    1. hurrahforgin

      Oh it wasn’t really scary – there were no cars about. It was more about the trying to explain the consequences in a way a 3 year old can grasp – pretty difficult as it turns out! x

  8. Dean B

    What a lovely post Katie! :) What’s with 3 year-olds and questions about death/dying? Little T has also been talking about this rather unpleasant topic – One minute she’s saying “I don’t want my daddy to die” to “I don’t want a new daddy if he dies”. She knows about death through Finding Nemo and that our dog Mutley died, if this is a phase that they are going through, will be so glad to go on to the next what-ever-it-is-phase! x

  9. 3yearsandhome

    It’s a tough one. As CK was in hospital twice last year, he’s aware that if something bad happens to you, the doctors fix you. He thinks doctors can do anything and everything. I don’t think he’s ready to hear that some things are even beyond doctors’ powers.

  10. craftsonsea

    We had a similar (though thankfully safer) issue yesterday, reading a power rangers book (joy!) and the yellow ranger had her soul taken, fell asleep and was going to die. I just didn’t know how to explain it to a 3 year old? So I err.. Mumbled a bit, it was bedtime and all that…

  11. mummydaddyme

    It’s a hard one and funnily enough I was thinking about this just today when Mads randomly shouted ‘murderer’ which I believe Mr Potato Head says on Toy Story. They are so innocent and I dread the day we will have to tell them that the world isn’t quite so rosy as they think. :(

  12. Claire

    Wow, what a thoughtful post. Such a shame that they can’t keep that wonder and innocence forever but with growth comes more beauty and deeper love x

  13. Chloe (Sorry About The Mess)

    Arlo knows the words “dead” and “forever”, but of course he doesn’t quite grasp what they really mean yet. He has lost toys “forever” and he knows that they aren’t coming back. We have had quite a few discussions about animals dying, and it’s all been very matter of fact, but talking to him about the same thing with humans is a subject that I think I would skirt around too for now.

    I remember when he was around 2 and he parroted back a sentence that Sam must have said to him, “I have to be careful in the road because I don’t want a car to hit me and then I would be dead”. Sam is so ‘to the point’ with these things, but it made me feel uncomfortable. I also thought it was too complicated a subject for him to understand, so I explained that if he bumped into a car it would really hurt and that’s why we have to be careful by roads – much more of an easy concept for him to understand!

  14. Jen Walshaw

    It is really hard to deal with death, but my stock answer to questions like this is “what do you think will happen”. I also asked the boys to try to remember what it felt like before they were born and they both said they couldn’t, so I said well that isn’t scary then is it as I assume death feels the same!

  15. Alice

    This stopped my heart because it sounds so familiar… I suppose this situation happens to all of us but it’s the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night thinking ‘what if…?’. Glad he’s OK though you’re probably the one who needs a big hug after that (and by big hug I obvs mean big drink) xx

  16. Mummy Glitzer

    We had the same just before Christmas when walking home from nursery with a friend, Harry darted across the (very quiet) road. Although we didn’t really have much of a conversation other than me telling him off, loudly and publicly. Then again just last week his friend ran out into the road but this time there was a car coming, Thankfully very slowly as we’re in such a residential area with several schools motorists tend to be aware but it’s pretty safe to say that both boys got a fright.

  17. Lammie

    Hi Katie, such a beautiful, poignant post. Its such a tricky subject isn’t it? I remember being terrified about my parents dying when I was little and now my children (5 & 6) are just starting to ask me those difficult questions. I want to tell them I’ll be here forever for them. Of course I cant but I hate the thought of them feeling sad or scared. Like you say, the loss of innocence is heart breaking. You really sum up the feeling beautifully, thanks for your writing, I love it!

  18. MummyNeverSleeps

    Oh my. I totally sympathise with that gut lurching moment when they edge too close… Bean apparently enjoys giving me daily heart attacks, balancing along the curb of the road. Crossing roads by himself. Gah. The “D” word is so hard. Even when you brave it and say the word to them (which feels SO wrong), they just don’t get the finality of it. Obvs. I know it sounds messed up but having a pet helps. The “presents” my cat brings home has gently helped his understanding…


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