Teach your Child to Survive Grief

How do you recognize when trauma is life threatening to your kid? What becomes the breaking point in a child or a young adult and how can you help? The tiny disappointments common to an adult can become a reason to attempt suicide in a child over eight and especially, for a teenager. Acne, a broken heart, loss of a grandparent, parent or friend, cut from the team, botched SAT exams, a drug bust or arrest are so traumatic for a young person that a parent would be wise to pay very close attention.

Stress is a pervasive pressure on your body that is like running an engine relentlessly. Eventually, the weakest place will begin to fail. As the body’s production of hormones, brain chemicals, and metabolism become affected, so does the thinking process. A child, who has much less experience and vision to see stress and disappointment as a transitory part of life, may ruminate and obsess without end. Right before your eyes, they could already be on their way to mental illness because they refuse to eat mandatory mental health foods like vegetables and fruits or resting the mind by sleeping 8-10 hours a night. Add worry or shock to this combination and you may get some real stinking thinking. Throw in drugs or alcohol to depress them even more and suicide seems like an option in a kid who would never have ever thought about it previously.

Children and teens often believe that they must find a solution for their problems immediately, not realizing that often, time heals most pain. A child will attempt to reduce the pain that they are feeling and soon it is their most important goal. With their limited life experience, they cannot conceive of an end to their grief or know that they will recover soon.

If your child receives a life blow, assume the worst and operate as if they feel like giving up and not living another moment. Try to listen to all their drama without escalating emotionally yourself. They need a steady helper not additional harsh treatment, fear or hysteria. This is the wrong time to scold, “Take your hits like a man!" as your father may have said to you. Instead, baby them and take them for ice cream, even if the are 24. Spend lots of time with them, including taking a sick day from work to go fishing or shopping. Your steady company will help them get some needed perspective that life does move on even after heartbreak, rejection or failure.

Until you die, there is always another chance to be who you want to be, find the right one or make up for past mistakes. Never is life a throw away. Teach your child to value his or her life and promise them an opportunity in their future to recover their loss. Whatever affected and hurt them today might be bad enough to kill them even if you think it is little problem. You must take them seriously. Some kids hold it all in. The less they talk and act as if it were no big deal, the more likely they are faking and feeling much differently inside. If you feel scared for them, get them to a cool professional therapist who can help teach them to survive the highs and lows of life. Above all, your job as a good parent is to show them some love and respect for their hurt right now, rather than later.

©2008, Molly Barrow

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Dr. Molly Barrow holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is the author of the new book, Matchlines: A revolutionary New Way of looking at relationships and making the right choices in love. Shre your thoughts with her at Molly is an authority on relationship and psychological topics, a member of the American Psychological Association and a licensed mental health counselor. Dr. Molly has appeared as an expert on NBC, PBS, KTLA, and in O Magazine, Psychology Today, Newsday,,, Women's Health and Women's World. Take the new relationship compatibility test, Match Lines Systems for Successful Relationships for Singles, Couples and Business at Molly has a radio program, Your Relationship Answers at

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