Google+ Mommy Moments with Abby: Children that deal with death

Friday, May 13, 2011

Children that deal with death

Dealing with death is hard as an adult so what does a child understand, feel, and how do we as parents or caregivers help them? This largely depends on the childs age, the type of death, if they witnessed the death, which died, and if the death was expected or not. The child’s age is the first indicator of how to deal with this sensitive subject.

If the child is an infant or under the age of 1 and 1 ½ than most likely the concept of death will not be something they understand. What they will recognize is if a significant person in their daily life is no longer there. Infants can experience a sort of failure to thrive if it’s a parent or main caregiver and should be watched to make sure they are alright with any signs of failure to thrive like refusing food, non-stop sleeping, digestive issues, non-stop crying, and they also will be absorbing the emotions of others around them. Also, keep in mind with infants the sudden increase in new people around them will add to their stress. Make sure to do what you can to provide what the child is expressing they need from affection to space(not so much you will miss other cues) to food or drink to verbal re-assurance. Keeping the baby in their normal schedule as much as possible will also help.

After the age of 3 deaths will be more understood by a child. That said most likely until they are about 6 deaths won’t be thought of as permanent, more of a punishment or something related to sleeping. Make sure to be honest with children, death is not sleep or a long trip, and that they won’t die if they need to get put in time out as it may increase a childs stress level. They are very affected by the parents emotional state and may not understand some of the religious beliefs such as heaven yet. Again, talk to your children in their vocabulary level but state facts and things that you would to a peer regarding your religious beliefs and the permanence of death doing otherwise will cause confusion, anxiety, and will increase the likely hood that as the person’s inability to return becomes aware anger/betrayal will appear since they were told the person could.

At this time you can see more infantile behaviors come back, accidents, attachment to toys or blankets for security, thumb sucking, wanting to be carried. At the opposite end of that will be the aggressive behaviors or difficulty coping in situations that previously had no issue such as sharing with friends. Be ready to answer the same questions over and over again as they are trying to understand what is going on in their life and with what is occurring around them the change will be obvious. Kids at this age are developing their vocabulary and may not be able to vocalize exactly what they are feeling as they have never felt it before so talk to your child honestly about your feelings so they can learn the words to express to you. Do not be afraid if in working out their feelings and events they tell you of connections to the death that are not connected. At this age they are very imaginative and can make unrealistic connections, be calm when explaining how the events are or are not connected. Be very wary of a child who is shelling up and removing themselves from everything, everyone, and refusing to eat or drink.

If you notice your child is having a very difficult time with the loss consult a doctor. Another thing that may help is to read books about death with your child or to take time to notice life cycles in nature say on a walk to look at and discuss with a child. A simple discussion about how a leaf that has turned from green to red to brown and dry may help a child understand that death and life cycles are everywhere and may lessen the shock of the death by showing them that it’s not uncommon and a part of life. Basically, the best thing is to know your child, watch your child, be honest with your child, and realize that whatever your feeling and experiencing so is your child only they are also confused and unable to express it like you are.

Be sensitive to the child’s need to understand and cope and chose what’s best for your family and your child as you know best. If a distant relative or cousin/aunt/uncle passes that they child has met only a few times and you know your child is very sensitive and you choose to not have the child around the events of that death then do that, but make sure you let the teachers, family, and friends know of this choice so they don’t accidently bring it up. If you choose to take them to all the events and talk to them openly about how you feel and what you believe and what happens during each event than make sure to let teachers, family, and friends know how you’re explaining it and discussing it so they can follow your lead. Kids are just little people who are less able to express and communicate their feelings. Even if you haven’t experienced a recent death it may not be a bad idea to talk about it before anything happens so when it does there is already an established understanding or knowledge with the child. Whatever you choose make sure to be aware of what the child is showing you they need or if they are expressing they are in crises and never be afraid to have them seen if you have doubts or worries about how they are dealing with the death. To end, life is a cycle we all must go through, to understand that there is a beginning and an end can be the easiest and second most difficult thing we will ever face; explaining that to a child the first most difficult.


Recommended Reading to help explain Death to a Child:
Tear Soup, Pat Schwiebert (Author), Chuck DeKlyen (Author), Taylor Bills (Author)

Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies by Janis L. Silverman

When Dinosaurs Die:A Guide to Understanding Death by LauraKrasny and Marc Brown

Fireflies, Peach Pies, & Lullabies by Virginia L. Kroll

Gentle Willow: A Story for Children About Dying by Joyce C. Mills

Are You Sad Too? Helping Children Deal With Loss and Death byDinah Siebert

A Dog Like Jack by DyAnne DiSalvo

The Bug Cemetery by Frances Hill

Ghost Wings by Barbara M. Joosse

Bear's Last Journey by Udo Weigett

Old Pig by Margaret Wild

I'll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

Goodbye, Mousie by Robie H. Harris

Evertt Anderson's Goodbye by Lucille Clifton

Badger's Parting Gift by Susan Varley

Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen

The Cemetery Quilt by Kent and Alice Ross

The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst

Dribbles by Connie Heckert

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Busgaglia

Guiding Your Child Through Grief by Mary Ann Emswiler

Sad Isn't Bad: A Good-Grief Guidebook for Kids Dealing With Loss by Michaelene Mundy

Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies by Janis Silverman

Water Bugs & Dragonflies: Explaining Death to Young Children by Doris Stickney

Little Tree: A Story for Children With Serious Medical Illness by Joyce C. Mills

I Miss You: A First Look At Death by Pat Thomas

What on Earth Do You Do When Someone Dies? by Trevor Romain

Sun & Spoon by: Kevin Henkes

Blackberries in the Dark by: Mavis Jukes

The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by: Judith Viorist

Bridge to Terabithia by: Katherine Paterson

The Hundred Penny Box

Missing May by: Cynthia Rylan

A Butterfly for Brittany: A Children’s Book About the Death of Another Child, from a Child’s Point of View By: Cristine Thomas

A Complete Book About Death For Kids By:Earl Grollman

Always and Forever By: Alan Durant

A Terrible Thing Happened By: Margaret Holmes (for traumatic events or deaths experienced by a child)

Gentle Willow By: Joyce Mills

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