Parenting

Parenting: Helping kids deal with death

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Last week, a friend of my son Billy lost his father to a sudden and unexpected death. Though the boy is not one of Billy's closest friends, they've known each other since middle school, and clearly, this is upsetting news.

It's tough enough for kids to lose an elderly relative, but the sudden death of someone their parents' age, or, even worse, one of their own contemporaries, can be really devastating.

My oldest son, Jason, lost a classmate in middle school and a camp friend during high school. So what's a parent to do to console and counsel their child during such a difficult time?

When our family has had to deal with these sad situations, I've tried to let the boys take the lead. Jason chose to go to both of his friends' funerals.

In the case of his middle-school friend, I took him. When he lost his friend during his senior year in high school, he drove with a group of other teens to North Jersey for the funeral.

Billy has expressed an interest in going to the "Shiva" at his friend's home. Allowing the boys to decide their own response to these difficult situations, I think, gives them a small sense of control, at a scary time.

The other step I think it's important for parents to take is to promote an open discussion about what their kids are feeling. I'd love to be able to tell my boys that nothing like this will happen to them or to us, but there are no such guarantees in life.

It's important to stress that whatever reactions they're having - whether that be fear, sadness, anger, etc. - is normal.

Keeping your kids' at-home routine as normal as possible, while allowing them time to talk and grieve, is also important. These situations are a good time to discuss what your particular faith teaches about death.

It's also good to take concrete steps like bringing food to the mourners' home or making a donation in the memory of the deceased. This will give your kids the feeling that they can do something positive, even in a negative situation.

For more tips on helping your teens deal with death, see these resources:
-Kid's Health
-HospiceNet
-Help Guide

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