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Helping a grieving child

I guess one of the hardest situations I have had to deal with in my 25 years of experience as a psychologist was,just at my beginning when I had been asked to help a seven-year-old boy deal with the death of his mother.I can still remember his questions ,”where is she…is she cold…does she miss me” ..What to say…here some thoughts…

I will love to hear what you think!

 Most children are aware of death ,even if the don’t understand it,they have seen it in cartoons ,tv, they play games where death is part of the game.They talk about “lives “ the have in different matches …But ,to experience death firsthand is a very different and stressing matter . As Rachel Ehmke says, as a parent “You can’t protect your kids from the pain of loss ,but you can help them build healthy coping skills” You can help them feel safe ,you can help them build coping skills with which  they will face and ,deal with loss all in their lives. Because ,unfortunately , the loss is part of life.

When a Child loses his o ,her, mother, a sense of complete fear takes over.Who is going to look after me? Who is going to protect me? Children tend to look at the other parent, and “check”, through their eyes, in  their face, in their behavior,what is going on. If the surviving parent is completely desperate, the child tends to behave “extremely well” .Doesn’t show any reaction…

Children tend to over-adapt and protect the suffering parent. This behavior will continue until the child has the sense of calm,and normality. When the child feels that someone ,again, is able to take care of him, he will show, through his behavior, his reaction to loss.

Children grieve  differently than adults. After losing a loved one ,a child  may cry a minute ,like mad ,or ,not even cry at all. They can even go from crying into playing. Through playing is the way children deal with difficulties .Reason why therapy with kids is done through playing and games…To play, under no reason,  means that the child is not sad or, that he has finished grieving .It means he is processing the fact.

It is very hard to know how a child will react to death, even if he will be able to grasp the concept. I always suggest parents is to be very careful and age oriented. Listen more than talk .Answer questions more than give information ..…

As psychiatrist Gail Saltz explains, “Children understand that death is bad, and they don’t like separation, but the concept of ‘forever’ is just not present.” Many times, kids think that they will come back if they “behave well “, so, try to avoid euphemisms. Be, always, taking into account the child’s developmental stage, direct.

I have been asked many times if it is appropriate for Kids to attend funerals. I consider that that depends on a lot on your kid and yourself. Sometimes funerals may be helpful for providing closure, sometimes children aren’t ready for that. I suggest, if possible, ask your kid. If he wants to go, take him, never force. Take into account how you will feel, your own grief, and, ask yourself if you will be able to provide softness for the kid. Now, if you decide to take your child to the funeral, make it a “touch and go” situation. If possible, make his attendance to the funeral quick. Let him say goodbye, maybe put a drawing or, letter into the casket, and done. While the child is in the funeral, allow as few people as possible around the kid. Once the child is gone you will be able to take more care of your, self. Please!  Don’t ignore your own grief!!

Hope it was useful,

Ines Estrada Vigil


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