Addressing Concerns

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Noticing Signs

Sometimes children’s reactions can be especially severe. Common behaviors might grow in intensity or frequency, signaling a need for extra attention.

Nightmares or scary thoughts. These may be about death or about the way a parent died.

Avoidance. Your child may be unwilling to discuss death or the deceased person—even happy memories.

New difficulties. Trouble sleeping, poor concentration, excessive irritability, or new fears are common challenges.

Regression. Children may exhibit old behaviors such as thumb sucking, bedwetting, or clinginess.

Sometimes a long illness might give your family time to confront the possibility of death. At other times, the death of a loved one can come suddenly, as in the case of an accident or suicide.

If your loved one dies after a long illness:

  • It still may not be possible to prepare fully for the death of a loved one and the emotions that may surface. It’s normal for children and adults to feel overwhelmed.
  • It’s also normal to feel relief. You or your child may feel that things have become easier. You may feel excited about doing things you couldn’t do while coping with the illness.

If your loved one’s death is sudden:

  • It’s not unusual for children to develop very strong fears about their personal safety or the death of the surviving parent. If this is the case, help your child address these fears.
  • If your loved one died serving or protecting your community, your child might see his parent as a hero and may feel resentful about the death. Help your child accept all of his complicated feelings and understand that the parent is still a hero in your hearts.
  • In the case of suicide, it is essential to stress that the person who died had an illness. You might say, “Your daddy’s brain wasn’t healthy and that made him feel so confused that he did something that caused him to die.” Try to focus on the positive memories of your loved one, instead of how he or she died.

If you have concerns about your child’s behavior, seek professional help. Seek immediate help if your child’s actions can cause injury.

Next: Supporting Each Other


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