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Helping your kids cope

May 3, 2010 - Erin O'Neill
Coping with loss is not easy for anyone and, for a lot of parents, having to deal with your own grief, while explaining life and death and providing comfort to a child, can be very difficult and painful.
I am writing this on the anniversary of my grandmother's death and am taking time to reflect following some devastating news in my daughter's preschool community. I am also consumed with personal issues in my own family.
My child is 4 1/2 but she has an old soul and she is sensitive. While she doesn't completely grasp the idea of the permanence of death, she understands that people are sad. She understands that her hamsters and her fish are gone, but is confused about how we could replace them but not a person.
Losing a friend or a family member is not a new experience for my daughter; we lost our uncle a little over a year ago. But she was at an age then when we could gloss over things a little. She knew mommy was sad but it could all be made better with a toy or a piece of candy or a favorite movie.
Recent events, though, have prompted me to have an honest discussion with her because I think it is important that she learns the truth and knows that mommy will help her to understand something that we all have to deal with and death is a painful thing she will probably experience several times in her life. 
Experts recommend talking to young kids on their level, explaining in terms they can grasp. Such as "you know how Aunt Jane loved to do puzzles with you? Well dying means that she won't be able to do those things anymore."
It is important to be open and comforting, let them know there is no right or wrong way to feel. Don't talk about death in scary terms, such as "so-and-so was very sick" or "Mrs. Jones died at the hospital" or "he went to sleep" because these terms will provoke fear that all sick people die or the child will die in his sleep.
Be open to questions from your young child and try to be honest - yet simple - with the answers. 
Most importantly, I think, is to hug and kiss them and tell them you love them. 
Because you never, ever know.


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