Parenting In Focus: Talk about the tough things

Most of us have some difficulty talking with our kids about the more difficult subjects — topics such as his grandpa dying, her parents getting a divorce, her U.S. Marine daddy going to a dangerous place, his older sister being in the hospital, the death of a friend and even tragedies that are in the news.

These are difficult subjects but ones that are important for parents to understand and talk about with their children.

Learning about grief and loss can be an important experience for a child. It is also a chance for the whole family to share feelings and learn from each other.

Just because your child doesn’t bring up this subject to talk about doesn’t mean you should avoid the topic. Give your child a chance to talk about death and loss whenever they need to. If you know this is on their mind, you can be the one who brings it up.

You can begin by telling your child you were thinking about the good times you used to have with Grandma before she died when she would read books with you and how you really loved those times with you and her together. Tell her how you bet she misses those special times with Grandma.

When death is involved, it is usually accompanied with fear. You need to reassure your little one that you or someone they love will be with them. There is always the fear that others will die too. Again, when you talk together and reassure him that you will be there, this will help.

Time and talking

Spending time together is one of the best ways to ease the pain of loss. Do things your family likes such as visits to the playground or to a special place like the zoo. These experiences reinforce the love between each person and that they all still can enjoy life.

If you are dealing with someone being in the hospital, talk about others who have been there and come out just fine. Talk about your own hospital experience and if your child has been in the hospital, talk about that experience.

When you talk about the difficult experiences in life, you are increasing your bond with your child. Make sure that your talk together includes hugs and reassurances that your love him and will be there for him.

Be honest with him. If he fears that his friend who is in the hospital will die, you can’t just tell him that won’t happen because it might. You can talk about the strength of the relationship he has with his friend and how important that is.

Some parents avoid talking about death, illness, and tragedy with their children. Avoiding the subject does not help the child who is experiencing the fears associated with these feelings. Your talking and listening to him about these experiences can be tailored to his age. Try to tell him as much as you think he can understand.

It is important for you to listen for indication of worry or fear that your child had angry feelings about this dying or sick person. Your child may fear that he has caused these things to happen. He needs your reassurance this is not the case.

In addition to the fear the child may have that he caused the negative things to happen to the person, your child may begin to feel like he may die or get sick. This is an important time to be there for your child.

Many of these same fears come out for your child when he loses a pet. Be sure to give him the same kind of support because the loss may be just as difficult for him.

You have an important place in your child’s life to help in difficult times. Take them seriously. You really make a difference in how your child handles these special times.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which published newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents.