Posts Tagged ‘coping’

For Caregivers ~ Do’s and Don’ts in Discussing Death with Children

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

Sad boy


For children, when they experience death of a parent, grandparent, sibling or best friend, we often are ill-equipped to know how best to help them. In my work as a psychotherapist and grief/bereavement counselor, I share the following fundamental tips with caregivers.

  • Don’t use euphemisms. For example, don’t talk to the child about death as sleep. Research has found that children become afraid to go to bed, because they worry they might not wake up.
  • Don’t avoid the reality by saying the deceased has “gone away.” At ages 7/8, children can understand that death is universal, irreversible, and has a cause.
  • Don’t say God has taken the child because God could become something to fear/hate. If the family believes in an afterlife, the child needs to understand that concept for this explanation to be helpful.
  • Do understand that the child may show anxiety for some time. This may look like sadness, irritability, acting out, mentioning death in conversation at odd times, difficulties sleeping, upset stomachs or headaches. School performance may also decline for a time as children may have difficulty focusing on their work. All are normal coping patterns and part of the grief process. Show love and understanding. Have the child see a pediatrician if symptoms are not diminishing.
  • Do be honest. Don’t tell lies about how the person died and keep explanations very simple. The child may well need you to repeat them over the course of time. An exception to this would be if the child is young and will not understand the cause of death or it seems inappropriate to tell the child the cause of death, e.g. death by addiction or suicide. If you are unsure what to say because of the circumstances, speak with a grief counselor.
  • Do let your child cry. Crying is healthy and releases hormones and energy that promote healing. Telling your child to stop crying or “be strong” will only result in emotions being released in other ways – often through anger.
  • Do let your child know that family and friends are also sad. If the child is school age, do contact the school counselor and the child’s teacher and let them know what has happened so they can give the child extra support, time, and attention.
  • Do talk about the deceased person. The healing is in the talking and the memories – difficult and happy ones.
  • Do create traditions to celebrate the legacy of the deceased person. These can be simple or on a larger scale. Let the child be a part of the creation of these.
  • Do consider that a bereavement group for the child may be helpful after a sufficient amount of time has passed. Explore the options in your area.
  • Do find books to help the child process what has happened and their emotions. Your local librarian can provide you recommendations.
  • Do remember your own self care. Parents/caregivers are often so quick to get the child help. Remember, you can only help the child if you are getting the support you need to navigate this extraordinarily complex journey.


Divorce – A Child’s Perspective

Written by sharon on . Posted in Blog

Divorce is an incredibly complex issue for children and teens to understand. A critical factor when considering how children and adolescents might be impacted by separation or divorce is their egocentricity. What is meant by egocentricity is that children and teens look to themselves, almost always, as the cause of problems that arise in the family and this can provoke great stress and anxiety for them, especially in the case of divorce.
No matter how much you as a parent might try to assure your children that they are not the cause of the break up, none the less they tend to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that they are in some way the cause. They may contemplate thoughts like, ‘If I had been a better kid or a smarter kid, this wouldn’t have happened.” I once had a young adult client whose parents had separated several years earlier, right after a baseball game in which he played poorly. A part of him still felt his inadequacy at the game had somehow tipped the marriage, which ended, over the edge. Added to children’s thoughts of blame is usually the enduring hope that the family will come back together again. This hope may span many years. Assurances by parents that kids are not to blame and the reasons for the break up must be consistent and repeated over time as must the fact that the family has changed permanently. Children’s self blame can manifest in behaviors such as acting out, tantrums, bed wetting, sleeping issues and depression. For adolescents, drinking and the use of drugs or other substances are symptomatic of painful feelings they cannot tolerate because they lack the needed coping skills.
Sadness and loss are normal reactions for all of those in the family affected by divorce. However, if your child or adolescent is exhibiting behaviors that concern you, consider whether the help of a therapist might be appropriate—both for them and for yourself. Whether you’re contemplating separation or divorce, in the midst of one, or dealing with the aftermath, I encourage you to reach out for support. Don’t struggle through this difficult time alone.