Question

School Age Child Emotional Health

How can I help a child who is acting out after a death in the family?

A Answers (2)

  • ANiamh van Meines, Nursing, answered
    Often children find it easier to express themselves through games and drawing pictures. Spending time with the child creating opportunities for them to safely express themselves is very important. Having said that, children take their cues and guidance from adults and they may be reacting to what they are witnessing around them and pushing the boundaries as far as the behaviors that are accepted by authority figures. Perhaps ensuring that the child is not witnessing adult conversations that may impact their perception of the situation & resuming normal activities that are familiar for the child can help. If these activities are not helpful, counseling services from a bereavement specialist who has expertise in helping children is recommended.
  • AHeather Wittenberg, PhD, Psychology, answered
    First, know that little kids really don’t understand death until they’re 7 or older. You can’t do anything about that, it’s just their level of cognitive development. If your child and the person who passed away were close, you can talk to him about how the loved one “has died and we won’t see him or her for a long, long time," but only if your child brings it up. Follow your child’s lead. Don’t assume that he is suffering or is not.

    Most likely he is upset by the adult emotions he sees around him. That’s inescapable of course; but you can try to give yourself room and have supportive people around for you away from your son, so he does not have to get upset by your being upset. When you feel okay, you can talk calmly to him about it, in very short, simple sentences; just a little sound bite at a time. But focus on reassuring him that you are okay, and he is okay, and the family and house have rules, and that they have to be followed by everyone.

    In terms of his behavior, hold the line. He is testing partly because he sees that you’re down. He is wondering: "What happens when Mommy is upset? Can I get away with things now and will things fall apart?" He’s pushing the limits to see if he’s safe, and if you’re okay. I bet a few days of consistent expectations and consequences will set him on a better path.
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