Saturday, October 28, 2006

Helping Your Child Deal With Loss

Originally uploaded by Cubbie1.

My daughter and I lost two very special people in our lives at crucial points in our childhood.

When I was 16 years old, my father died from a massive heart attack at the age of 49. We weren't able to say good-bye to him. I remember the day as if it took place only yesterday. Some memories stay with you for the rest of your life. P was 7 when her younger brother Migi died. He was four and they were as tight as tight could be. She wasn't able to bid him good-bye either. Worse, because of strict hospital policies, she was not even able to see him in the hospital. Whether that was in the end a good thing or not, I will never know. It's something I grapple with to this day.

What do you tell a child when a loved one is gone and how do you best say it? Children go through grief that can be called "cyclical". Meaning, it repeats itself through various stages in the child's development. The adult who is tasked with breaking the difficult news si often in a major quandary as to what to say and how to go about it. Here are some guidelines that may help you help you r child deal with loss.

First, Consider the child's age and his/her ability to understand the situation. A child of five will naturally have a very different perception of the situation versus a child of eight. Find out first what the child knows and try to speak to him or her by using terminology that he/she can understand.

Second, Never use euphemisms. Use precise terms when talking about death. Try to explain that being dead means that the body has stopped working and that it cannot be fixed. That it no longer feels cold or gets hungry. The good side of this is that a dead body doesn't feel any more hurt or pain.

Third, If the child asks whether you will die, respond that everybody dies someday but that you hope to live yet for a longer period of time and do things with the rest of the family for a long time.

Fourth, Children cannot tolerate long periods of sadness and they may want to play and go back to their usual activities. Allow them to do so. This does not mean that they did not love the person who has gone on or that they are being disrespectful. Give your child permission, in fact, encourage them, to indulge in the activities that they love. Play is an essential part of a child's healing process.

Fifth, Expect changes in the child's behavior or patterns and be sensitive to them. These may indicatethat the child is experiencing problems associated with the death. It is best to consult a specialist like a counselor, a child psychologist or a bearevement specialist to help your child hurdle this difficult time.

It can be difficult to be around bereaved children but do not avoid them or avoid discussing the issue of loss when they want to talk about it. Assure them of your love and care. Learn also how to express your grief in positive ways. Remember that your child watches and observes and you are his/her best role model for grief.

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