Friday, October 24, 2008

A Lot On One Plate

It's been a weeks since the last post, but there is a lot on my plate at the moment - will return soon!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sudden Endings

It can be extremely painful when we lose someone close to us.

It's hard enough for adults not be able to say goodbye to a dear friend or family member whether due to a tragic accident or sudden illness. When a child does not get to say goodbye to a person who has been important, the impact can not only feel devastating; it can be very confusing, sad, and anxiety provoking.

The child's reaction may be impacted by a number of different factors: the age and developmental level; the relationship the child had to the person; how the adults around the child are now behaving; and if the circumstances were particularly difficult, the way in which the loss is explained.

One question I often hear from parents is, "How do we explain death to a child and must we do it?"

Children need to know the truth, especially when it comes to losing someone that they love. They should be told in a gentle, supportive, and age-appropriate way. It's also important to keep in mind that children under the age of five do not yet understand the concept of time and death, although they may know from the way adults around them are behaving that something is wrong.

It is okay to explain that they will not be seeing their auntie, grandma, or whomever the important person is, again. This will likely bring up more questions, including, "Why?" You don't need to provide details to a young child, but can let him know, "Well, grandma was sick." You can simply remind him of how much grandma loved him. Remind the child that this love, and the special things and times they shared together will remain. Share with him how much you love and will miss grandma too.

In therapy, to work through the feelings related to a loss, I will often have the child make a picture, a book, or if they are old enough, write a letter together with me for the person they have lost. For older and more verbal children, sharing and exploring thoughts and feelings about the loss is also crucial.

There is no sudden or "magical" cure to helping a child work through losing someone they love. There is, however, a parent or caregiver's support, reassurances, and love. This, along with time and (for some children) therapeutic support, will help a child overcome his or her sadness, grief, and anxiety.