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Parenting Through the Tough Times

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May 20, 2015

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Shifting homes. Divorce. Death.  These are big life moments that, unfortunately, often sweep up small children. They are also often situations when parents are not at their best. Therefore, in times of calm, it’s good to create a game plan. Being prepared to explain a difficult topic to your child, perhaps while you are also distressed, can make it easier for both of you. The guide below is for parenting during divorce, after a death in the family, and other difficult times.

Be truthful. Use age-appropriate language and filter information (for instance, perhaps say grandma is very sick, without mentioning the phrase critical condition). But don’t lie; telling kids daddy is ‘travelling’ when he has really moved out is neither helpful nor kind. Kids will either discover the truth and feel betrayed or be blindsided by future developments.

Reassure them. Kids need to know what has happened has nothing to do with them—that they are not the cause of whatever is happening. This is especially important for young children, who often think in terms of cause-and-effect in relation to themselves.

Maintain routine. In difficult times, kids feel insecure, wondering what will happen to them. Will they see their friends again? Will they still see mom every day? Will they die, too? Maintaining their typical routine as much as possible helps them weather the emotional storm.

Use play to relieve tension. Younger children in particular may find it easier to share their ideas and feelings about the event through non-verbal activities, such as drawing.

Acknowledge their feelings and express your own. Your child needs to know his feelings and concerns are valid. Expressing your own emotions by crying or showing sadness can help him deal with his own. But never lose control. It’s important for your child to know he can rely on you and you won’t fall apart.

Try to find the positives. This can be hard to do, especially when you’re feeling miserable yourself. But it can be supportive for all family members. If a beloved family member has died, make time to remember the happy moments or what the person meant to you and what you meant to them. If your family is moving to a new city, talk about how you and your child can explore a new place and make new friends, and plan ways to maintain old connections (if she wishes).

Respect their feelings. Kids will indicate if they want to be left alone. Sometimes, like adults, they need time and space to reflect and come to terms with the situation and their emotions. Allow them that time and space, while still making sure they go on with life. Let them know you are available if they need to talk.

Consider using a book. Sometimes, we just can’t find the words. So let others try. Here’s a list of children’s books that explain tough topics sensitively.

  • Dinosaurs Divorce by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Tolon Brown (Topic: Divorce)
  • I Don’t Want To Talk About It by Jeanie Franz Ransom (Topic: Divorce)
  • Moving House by Anna Civardi (Topic: Shifting Homes)
  • When My Worries Get To Big! by Kari Dunn Buron (Topic: General Anxiety)
  • Sad Isn’t Bad: A Good-Grief Guidebook for Kids Dealing with Loss by Michaelene Mundy (Topic: Death, Loss)
  • I Miss You by Pat Thomas (Topic: Death)
  • When Dinosaurs Die by Laurie Krasny Brown (Topic: Death)

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Written By Jehanzeb Baldiwala & Shamin Mehrotra

Jehanzeb Baldiwala is a therapist, supervisor, trainer, and part of Ummeed Child Development Center’s management team since 2004. She has aligned herself with narrative ways of working over the past ten years, and now consults with families and children in response to a range of issues that includes anxiety, depression, school-related issues, and more, as well as trains and supervises the mental health team at Ummeed. Formerly Director of Family Support and Social Rehabilitation Services at North East Community Center, Philadelphia, USA, she has a Master’s Degree in Applied Psychology from the University of Mumbai.

Shamin Mehrotra is a therapist and part of the Ummeed Management Team for over 10 years now. She has been instrumental in developing the Mental Health Training Program as well as conceptualizing, building and supervising the Social Work as well as the School Outreach teams at Ummeed. She also provides counseling for children with disabilities and their families. Shamin graduated from the University of Mumbai, India with a Master’s degree (MA) in Applied Psychology. She went on to pursue another Master’s degree (MSED) in Psychological Services from the University of Pennsylvania, USA.

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