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Anniversary Of 9/11 Offers Opportunity To Teach Kids About Death

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Heartbreak, Family

How parents can transition the anniversary of 9/11 into a meaningful conversation with their kids.

As parents, we must engage in many unpleasant and difficult situations. It's the tough talks that our children remember. Explaining death is one of those topics. Our kids are exposed to death each day. Listen to the new, or watch cartoons in the morning and you will find yourself astonished by all the violence and references to death. Our children have become somewhat desensitized by death until it happens to a pet, a family member or a national crisis such as what happened ten years ago on September 11.

A pet's death or a baby bird dead on the sidewalk can provide opportunities to talk with your child. You must remember that your child sees these incidences in concrete terms. Birds are always in the nest and hamsters stay in a cage. The child thinks this is the way it is, and when they see something out of the ordinary, they feel sad, and they also get somewhat anxious about what may happen to them. Sex Ed Is A Parent's Job

Part of your child's concrete thinking is their "magical thinking." They may feel like they will see the animal or loved one the next day. They cannot understand heaven and may think it unusual that a loved animal or family member went there without saying goodbye or taking them along. Just as you teach your child how to brush their teeth and tie their shoes, you must teach them how to grieve. Creating a scrap book or looking for old photos of your child with this loved animal or loved person will help them feel the sadness so they can move on without guilt or shame.

Many parents see their child crying and discourage their reaction. This is actually harmful, and although it is difficult to watch your child cry and not be able to fix the situation it is important to allow your child to express their sadness and grieve. Children watch their parents and learn how to react to death. If a parent cries freely and is still able to remember happy times with the loved person or pet the child learns it is okay to cry and feel sad but it is also okay to be joyful even though the person or animal they loved has died. Funerals are sad, and your child has little experience with them. It is wise to help your child prepare for what they may see or hear.

If your child is very upset it may be wise to include them with other family gatherings but not the funeral itself. Talk with your child about it. Many times they know what will be best for them and never pressure them into doing something in which they are afraid to participate. It may be helpful for you to give the child something from the loved one. This will allow your child to have something tangible to hold onto and by which to remember the loved one. For example a watch, or a favorite scarf from the loved one, or a collar or water dish from a pet that died will help your child let go in their own time.

Seeing a parent upset is very difficult for a child. They want to make you feel better. They may not express their own sadness as a way of protecting you. If you begin to notice your child is depressed, irritable, unable to sleep, has a change in appetite, fatigued or excessively active, begins having increased fears with other events, your child may be suffering from delayed grief. This is a good time to talk with your child. Tell them you are noticing these changes and encourage them to go with you to talk with a professional counselor. Both you and your child can use this time as an opportunity to get closer, which is a wonderful way to celebrate the life of the loved person or pet that died. –Mary Jo Rapini

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