Helping Children Deal with Grief
Children grieve when they lose a loved one — whether it’s a pet or a friend or a family member.
“Grief is like having something we love and care about, missing it when it’s taken away, and wanting it back again,” explains Jackie Kite. Kite is the program manager of Journey, Seattle Children’s grief and loss support program for families grieving the death of a child. “Grief is a normal and natural process,” she adds.
Kite says that parents can prepare children to face losses by using daily events to show that death is a natural part of the life cycle. “If children can learn and talk about death by mourning a goldfish or even looking at a dead fly, then it’s not so confusing or scary. Explain that all living things die, and what ‘dead’ really means: Their bodies don’t work anymore, they don’t get hungry anymore, they don’t swim or fly anymore.”
When a child loses a loved one, support them by answering their questions, comforting them, and being tuned in to their feelings. Kite suggests:
Be open with your child. Be open to all communication, and let the child ask as many or as few questions as they need to. Don’t try to mask your own grief. Be honest about your feelings while being careful not to overwhelm or frighten your child.
Explain things honestly. Vague explanations may confuse children: “He went to sleep.” (Then I better not go to bed.) “He went to heaven.” (When is he coming back?) “He went to the hospital and died.” (If I go to the hospital will I die too?) Instead, explain things simply and honestly. For example, “Grandpa was very sick. The doctors did everything they could, but he was so sick they couldn’t make him well, and he died.”
Prepare and reassure them. If there will be a funeral or memorial and your child will attend, tell them what they’ll see and hear. Explain that others will show their emotions more than usual. Reassure your child that it’s okay to show their feelings, too.
Remember, everyone grieves their own way. “Everyone has their own style and timetable,” Kite says. “No one can change it or speed it up. Sometimes just being there and allowing someone to have their feelings is the best support you can give.”
If you feel your child needs more support, talk with their doctor or school counselor.
Visit our Journey Program page for resources on grief.
Avoid Sleep Positioners
Infant sleep positioners — used to keep infants on their backs or sides — are dangerous and should not be used. Infants can suffocate in a sleep positioner, or become trapped between it and the side of a crib or bassinet. The U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission and the U.S. Food and Drug Agency report 12 deaths over the past 13 years relating to sleep positioners. (The actual number may be higher since some deaths may be mistaken for SIDS.) Sleep positioners are either a flat mat with side bolsters or an inclined (wedge) mat with side bolsters. The safest cribs for infants are “boring, bare and basic.” Never put sleep positioners, stuffed animals, pillows, bumpers or comforters in an infant’s crib.
Read the Seattle Mama Doc blog post about sleep positioners.
Do Kids Need Vitamin Supplements?
Does your child need a daily multivitamin? The short answer is “maybe.” The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that healthy children who eat a well-balanced diet do not need to take a multivitamin. This is because many common foods are already vitamin fortified. The AAP does recommend giving vitamin D drops to breastfeeding infants and toddlers. Many kids don’t drink enough fortified formula or milk to get the recommended dose of vitamin D from their diets alone. All infants and children need 400 IU (International Units) of vitamin D a day. The body can make vitamin D when exposed to direct sunlight, but too much exposure to the sun’s rays can cause skin damage.
Your best bet is to talk with your child’s doctor about multivitamins, vitamin D, iron and other supplements — because not all kids’ needs are the same. Keep in mind that “megadoses” of any vitamin can be harmful — potentially causing nausea, rashes, headaches and other side effects. The bottom line: talk to your child’s doctor about nutrition at your next visit.
Seattle Mama Doc has written a few blog posts about iron, vitamin D and multivitamins. Check them out!
Teens Are Dying from the "Choking Game"
Teens and preteens seeking a quick “high” are harming their brains and even dying from the “Choking Game.” They strangle themselves with a belt or a rope or their hands, cutting off the flow of blood to the brain. Then they release the hold to feel the “rush” as blood and oxygen flow back to the brain. This act, often done in groups, has many different names, including Airplaning, Blackout, California Choke, Dream Game, Fainting Game, Pass-Out Game, Roulette, Space Cowboy and Suffocation. When children do this alone using a belt or a rope, some accidentally strangle themselves to death. In the U.S., as many as 1,000 young people may have died from this act. In Washington state, there have been seven deaths and two near-deaths reported. The actual number may be much higher, because these accidental deaths can be mistaken for suicides. While most children do not die from this act, each time they do it they are killing thousands of brain cells and causing brain damage. Kids who play the “Choking Game” are often kids who do not smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or use drugs. They falsely believe that this is a safe and harmless high. A few warning signs parents can look for include marks on the neck, bloodshot eyes, severe headaches, or a belt that is not worn left out in a child’s room. Informed parents can educate others — including their children, other parents and school officials — about this deadly game.
Visit www.gaspinfo.com to learn more. (The teaching video on the website features audio from a real 911 call that is tragic and upsetting.)
Treating a Nosebleed
Nosebleeds are common. They can be caused by dryness, nose blowing or nose picking. If your child gets a nosebleed, have them lean forward. Then, pinch the fleshy part of their nose shut for 10 minutes. If bleeding continues, pinch it shut for another 10 minutes. They can spit out any blood in their mouth. (They should not tilt their head back; this can send blood into their throat and stomach.) Seek medical help if the nose is still bleeding after 20 minutes. Also seek help if your child has put something in their nose, or has three or more nosebleeds within 24 hours. Prevent nosebleeds with a cool-mist humidifier in your child’s room, or use petroleum jelly to thinly coat the inside of the nose.
When your child has a mild illness or injury you can always check our symptom checker for help deciding if your child should see a doctor.
Keep Kids Active Indoors
Children need 60 minutes of exercise daily — and it doesn’t have to be all at one time. Since winter weather means more time indoors, get creative in your home or garage. Jumping rope and hula-hooping are great exercise. Use colorful masking tape to create a hopscotch course on the carpet, or use colored chalk on the garage floor. For kids over 3, bounce an inflated balloon back and forth using your hands, feet and head — keeping it afloat as long as possible. (Balloons are a choking hazard for young children.) Create “fitness stations” with homemade signs such as: 10 Power Pushups! 20 Super Sit-Ups! 30 Joyful Jumping Jacks! Exercise along to a workout video or fitness video game, or crank up the music and dance!
Use our Indoor Activity Tool Kit for a few more ideas.
"I Don't Want To!"
So you’ve signed up your child for a sport, lesson or other activity — and then they refuse to participate. It happens quite often, and it’s frustrating for everyone. What to do? First, try to see things from your child’s point of view. Was this activity their idea or yours? It may simply be that it isn’t the best fit for their interests and personality. For example, not everyone likes team sports or formal clubs. Help your child explore their interests and choose something they enjoy. Have them sample an activity first, before investing time and money. And your child may be more eager to jump into something new if a friend can join them. It’s all about helping your child learn, grow, and have fun!
Look for more ways to help your growing child learn and have fun by visiting our growth and development articles.