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Serious question (child psychology)(18 posts)

Serious question (child psychology)Captain Morgan
Oct 22, 2003 6:14 AM
About 7 years ago, my wife and I had our first child. A few days after birth, we found out he had a heart defect (non genetic). Open heart surgery was performed a few days later, which was not successful.

Since then, we have had two healthy children, with the oldest being a girl who is almost 6. My wife would like to tell her about her "older brother." I guess I had always envisioned telling her when she was older -- say 10 or so. This question is coming up now because we are going back "home" for Thanksgiving, which is where he is buried.

On the one hand, telling her now may help her spiritually. On the other hand, it might be negative emotionally for her. Or, it might just be a non-event.

Does anyone have a recommendation on this?
Whereas this is a great group for knocking heads ...sacheson
Oct 22, 2003 6:32 AM
... I don't think it's the best place to get advice on such serious matters.

Why don't you consult a professional? It seems that a topic like this deserves quality direction for both the children and the parents. If cost is an issue, does your health care provider offer any type of mental-health counselling coverage? Last year my wife and I were able to see someone for a few months at no charge to us. It might be worth looking into - especially for just an advisory session or two.

Aside from that, I wish you strength with whatever decision you make.
I agree, ask a professional . . .ms
Oct 22, 2003 7:29 AM
My gut reaction is to talk about the matter now. But, this really is a serious issue and I think that the "right" answer may depend upon a lot of factors that are well beyond the scope of this forum. For example, not all six-year olds may react the same way. My oldest daughter was about five years old when an elderly neighbor with whom she had spent a great deal of time died (e.g., the neighbor had helped my daughter to learn how to swim). My daughter never would talk about the death and to this day (she is 14) becomes uncomfortable when people speak about the neighbor or her death. My youngest daughter was about six or seven when another elderly neighbor with whom she had spend a lot of time died (they shared an interest in the neighbor's menagerie of chickens, ducks and rabbits). My youngest daughter requested to go to the funeral, has pictures of the neighbor in her room and still speaks about the neighbor fondly.

My reaction in favor of disclosure is based upon something not as serious, but the reaction when disclosure happened is interesting. My sister had a very short first marriage. She has remarried, moved to another state and has children. Although my brother-in-law knows about the first marriage, I do not believe that anyone else in her current town (including, most importantly, her children) knows about it. My sister is very sensitive about the fact of her previous marriage. About a year ago, my mother made an inadvertent comment about my sister's first marriage in the presence of my children. I decided that we had to tell them about it so that they would not do something like ask their cousins, my sisters kept-in-the-dark children, about it. Well, my daughters went on a rant for several days about how they had been kept in the dark about this. Every few hours we would get new cross examination about whether there were other family secrets that we were keeping from them. Interstingly, given your question, the thing that they were most interested in was whether there were any children to whom they were related about whom we had not informed them. It took several days of questions and answers to convince them that my wife had not had any children before them that were given up for adoption, that I did not have illegitimate children lurking around, etc. Just recently, when we were talking with my 14 year old daughter about how she should talk to us about things at school that may be bothering her, she deflected our comments with a mini-rant on how we had not made full disclosure to her about an important family issue (her words, not mine -- I think it is ancient history of little moment) until we were forced to do so by my mother's slip of the tongue.
Oct 22, 2003 6:32 AM
That's so sad. I have a real emotional weakness for kids suffering.

I'm thinking, with no professional experience at all, of course, that I wouldn't say anything until she asked. Maybe have general discussions in her presence about ill babies, or watch some of those TV shows about babies, etc., and sort of pre-condition her that those things happen (if not already). Maybe allow her to become comfortable or at least exposed to the concept that those things happen and there is nothing people can do well before it gets personalized.

You might run it by a school counselor, who might have more experience with this?

re: Serious question (child psychology)mohair_chair
Oct 22, 2003 6:33 AM
I don't have kids, but talking about death in the abstract to a six year old should be okay. But six seems too young to me to give a kid the concept of mysterious personal loss. She never knew her brother, but he died, younger than she is now. It could be a frightening concept.

As general advice, I think I'd wait until she is 10, but she's your daughter, not mine. I'm sure you have a feeling about her maturity level and how she might handle difficult events. Perhaps someone she knew has already died and she has dealt with that okay. A pet, a grandparent, a friend, a friend's parent, etc. Think about the major unplanned events of her life and how she handled them. There are a lot of factors that only you know as her father that should guide you a lot better than anyone here can.
Like others herejtolleson
Oct 22, 2003 7:04 AM
I am reluctant to advise on such a sensitive topic, but my gut reaction is like yours -- to wait. When I was that young, I found the concept of death (and cemeteries) very frightening.
re: Serious question (child psychology)DINOSAUR
Oct 22, 2003 7:08 AM
This is a hard question. I have 3 kids, ranging in ages from 17-36. They are all different and we raised them all the same way. At 6 years of age (note-I am no expert in child psycolology) some children understand a lot more than you give them credit for. But on the other hand, some children are very unmature. She is your daughter, you know her best. You might be trying to provide yourself with peace of mind. Checking with her teacher at school is good advice, teachers know children well and might have an idea of how she would react. But it would be a tough call for a teacher to make.

It a similiar situation-I was getting a haircut yesterday and the young gal cutting my hair asked me what my plans were for the day. I said that I was retired and I was getting a haircut and that was it (I was taking a day off my bike). Later she asked if I had any children, I said, yes, and stated their ages. Then later she asked if I had any grandkids, I said, not yet. She said I needed some grandkids to occupy my time. She was trying to be nice. I said, maybe someday. This is always hard for me as our daughter-in-law has had 2 miscarriages, and the last one put her in the hosptial for 2 weeks and off work for one month (it was life threatening). They can never have children, unless they adopt. I never really know how to respond to remarks like this, so I say nothing. This has nothing to do with your problem, but I have an idea of where you are at.

Maybe you should get a professional opionion, that's probably what I should have said in the first place.

I'm sorry for your lose. People always take childbirth for granted and it's not always that way.
re: Serious question (child psychology)Captain Morgan
Oct 22, 2003 7:29 AM
That's a tough one. I think you are doing the right thing by not mentioning it. I usually don't mention my loss because it makes people feel uncomfortable and somewhat guilty for mentioning the subject in the first place. Little do people know that overall it was a positive experience in my life, not a negative. I wish I could have spent more time with him, but yet again it has made me a better parent. I would have rather had that little time with him rather than no time at all.

There is a great lady in our office who lost her husband recently and has been having a hard time coping. She told me that quite frequently people ask her if she is going to remarry! This really upsets her because that is the LAST thing on her mind. Unbelievable.
Its not that major of an issueCaptain Morgan
Oct 22, 2003 7:18 AM
The issue here is not grievance. If that were involved, I would definitely get some professional help (money is not the issue). However, there are plenty of messed up people out there who need help, I feel this issue is not significant. For instance, I would not go to the emergency room for a paper cut! I do, however, like Doug's suggestion that I could run it by the school's counselor.

Whereas I realize this board might not have the professional expertise in every area, I think most people here are intelligent (please don't tell czar I said that). I cannot poll my office or friends because this is a personal matter and most people don't know and don't need to know about our previous loss.

I think a couple of you are on the same page as I am regarding perhaps waiting a few more years. I am leaning toward just telling my wife to wait a bit longer. I think she will respect that.
I'm no psychologist, but I would tell herColnagoFE
Oct 22, 2003 7:29 AM
Of course you need to find a way to tell them that a 6 year old can understand. I wouldn't get graphic, but I don't see the harm in telling them that they had a brother who died before they knew him.
Oct 22, 2003 8:03 AM

I hate it... well not hate it, but feel odd when people talk to me about relatives I don't know or don't really know...even to this day. I don't really have any visual picure or emotional element to empathize for these people. I don't know what it is but it just seems odd to bring up this to such a young person who is at the age where she will bring up more questions than any of us can answer.

Personally, I don't think a 6 year old will understand. Plus, I think it will create more confusion than it will anything else. Here is how I see it. A six year old can feel bad and sadness for a pet rabbit that has passed. She has touched it, talked to it and personalized the experience. That kind of a loss is real and tangible. Im thinking that trying to create emotions or feelings within such a young person would be equal to trying to make them sad about Jim Croce dying... you know? Im definitely not trying to belittle your loss, but bring this up to them later when they can understand it is YOUR loss and have empathy for YOU and your wife, instead of them trying to conceptualize and personalize someone that they really have no concept of.... does this make any sense?

With a two year old, I definitely feel for you... especially in light of the recent drowning of my close co-workers two year old this summer. If anything, make this opportunity a reminder to hug and cherish your children of all ages.

Best of luck,
depends on the kid and way of telling themColnagoFE
Oct 22, 2003 8:09 AM
I think there are ways to convey the gist of what happened to a 6 year old. I suppose it depends on the kid him/herself whether it would upset them or not. One of my kids is extremely sensitive about stuff like this. Likely due to seeing his grandfather almost die from heart problems and diabetes.
Oct 22, 2003 9:15 AM
I guess there is the saying that kids understand a lot more than what we give them credit for. I suppose you are right in some sense. But, I guess my concern is what Captain Morgan's expected purpose or desired end state is. Does that make sense?

Does the knowledge of his deceased unknown older sibling have a negative or positive impact on their life? Hard to tell at six, but I have a hard time rationalizing how this could be a positive one. But this is just MY two cents, and it may only be worth a penny...

it's hard to shield kids today anywayColnagoFE
Oct 22, 2003 8:14 AM
Seems that every news item is about someone being killed or some war going on. Sept 11 was hard for my (then 6 yo) kid to deal with. It was impossible for him to not see or hear about it so we had to find ways to talk about it and reassure him that terrorists weren't coming to our town tomorrow (even when we wondered if they really might be).
There is no wrong answerLive Steam
Oct 22, 2003 8:35 AM
In many ways children are more receptive of certain issues that adults don't handle well, because they have less prejudicial information from previous life experiences. Though you may never have to tell her, she should find out from you and your wife when she is still rather young. The reason I say she should be told is that you wouldn't want her to somehow find out on her own. There could be some resentment even though you would have withheld the information believing it was in her better interests. I don't think there is much difference in how she would handle this information from now until she is 10.

There are some books that deal with the issue. Sorry to hear about your loss. I am sure it was very difficult to deal with.
Sorry my link didn't work wellLive Steam
Oct 22, 2003 8:56 AM
To me it depends on your daughterlotterypick
Oct 22, 2003 10:02 AM
Some kids are wound where they could understand it and wnat to see him, some kids are wound where they can't understand it right now.

You know your kids. If your daughter is the thoughtful kind, I'd say tell her.

As a Sunday school teacher and having taught preschool to 5th grade. Your daughter probably would be fine if you tell her, want to bring him a flower and just say hi.

It would be a good opportunity for her to begin to understand life and death. No in a scary way, but real.
In my opinion................Len J
Oct 22, 2003 10:22 AM
the answer doesn't come down to whether or not you tell her, Rather it comes down to how you speak to her about this issue.

Either you tell her or you better be prepared when she asks the question. Ans she will ask the question, probably sooner rather than later. You and your wife need to be clear on what you want to say & what you don't & how you want to say it. Otherwise, what will you do when she asks?

My experience, having raised 4 children thru adulthood, is that, as long as you're truthful, but not overly dramatic nor overly detailed, you & she will be fine. Recognize that this issue is probably a bigger issue for you & your wife than it will be for her (Unless she reads that this is a hugh issue for you). Kids are curious, they also are trusting unless you prove untrustworthy. While I agree that if it is not done right it can be a problem, it's not that hard to do it right.

It really comes down to how you respond to her. My wife would call it "Lightly truthful" that is, don't make more of it than it is to her, don't try to explain more than she can understand, and remember, this is about her, not about you & your wife.

If you are still uncomfortable talk to a child psycologist.

Good luck, your obvious concern for your daughter will keep you from doing the wrong thing. Trust your instincts about you & what your daughter can handle.