Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Helping Children Cope

There are many times in a child's life that they experience loss, death, and grief. In the younger stages of life, this can range from the loss of a best friend moving away, to the death of their pet fish, or in more tragic cases, the death of a family member.

Other national types of losses that can affect children might include 9/11 and the war in Iraq. I remember being in 5th grade when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred. My teacher at the time was actually from that area, so it probably hit our classroom a little closer than others. As a sign of our love and thoughts, we drew pictures and sent them to another elementary school in the OKC area. About 4 years ago, I was able to go to the site and see the memorial that had been established for those that lost their lives. It brought back a lot of memories even though I was only 10 at the time. Loss and death affect everyone.

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, when talking to children about death, it is important to keep it at their developmental level, be respectful of their cultural norms, and be sensitive to the capacity to understand the situation. Many times for children in the younger grades (K-2nd gr.), their views of the situation will be based on adult reactions.

When grieving the loss of a significant person in their life, a children's reactions may include:

- emotional shock: lack of feelings, which helps them detach from the pain
- regressive/immature behaviors: needing to be rocked or held, difficulty completing tasks at their level, or wanting to sleep in their parent's bed.
- explosive behaviors: acting out internal feelings of anger, terror, frustration, and helplessness
- asking the same questions over and over: the information is hard to believe or accept, not because they don't understand it

There are some things that you can do to help children cope with loss:

  • Provide children the opportunity to tell their story, but most importantly listen to them.

  • Allow enough time for them to grieve. Pressuring them to resume to normalcy may prompt negative reactions or additional problems.

  • Tell the truth because children will pick up on the fact that you are hiding the truth and will question your trust in them.

  • Encourage them to ask questions and death.

  • Support them emotionally.

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