One of the most painful experiences youth can experience is the death of a friend. Parents often wish they could do more to take away the pain. As tough as these times are for the kids the experience makes them wiser, kinder and more compassionate.

By Rachna R. Buxani

Published: Tue 13 Jan 2004, 2:13 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 12:40 AM

How you deal with children in a crisis will depend a lot on the specific circumstances, your child's age, needs, and ability to understand. But certain basic guidelines apply.

Find your own sense of optimism. In troubled times, children pick up on what we're feeling more than anything else. It's important that we strive to find a way to affirm life for them, even if we can't yet do it for ourselves.

Listen to your child's feelings. Children often have feelings in response to friends they have lost. It's outside your power to make everything better, but you can give your children the priceless gift of listening.

Give your child the necessary information in simple, positive terms. It is important to give your child information about what's happened. Use concrete language. Euphemisms confuse more than they cushion pain. Tailor your explanations to your child's age and ability to understand. Children can be confused by elaborate explanations they can't comprehend.

Reassure your children about what will happen to them. Children interpret experiences in terms of themselves. They ask questions like, "Will that happen to me?" Respond to children's concerns by giving concrete answers and reassure them that these mishaps do not happen with everyone and that you are going to take care of them.

Help your kids in the way they need. It is much more helpful to ask questions than to give advice. Statements such as, "Help me understand how this is for you," bring us eye-opening responses. Instead of deciding what you can do to help kids feel better, ask them. Sometimes the efforts we employ to make children feel better may be less effective because they may not meet their needs. Graduation and the friend's birthday are times when students need a lot of support.

Facilitate your kids to have closure. Memorial services allow children an opportunity to say goodbye. Sometimes administrators have school-based memorial events. This provides an opportunity to students to make amends by saying positive things about the friend who has died. Speaking to the deceased friend's parents is also very helpful. Ask your child to state his or her feelings to the parents such as, "I really liked the way she was always..." "I'll miss doing... with her." It is also beneficial to invite some of your child's friends over and help them share their favourite memories of their friend who died.

Use the situation as an opportunity for teaching. In dealing with inevitable life crises, you have the opportunity to teach your children about the healthy expression of feelings, about the positive aspects of change, and about the human capacity to persevere and continue loving through hard times. Dealing constructively with the disequilibria caused by death of a loved one, can provide important lessons for children that they can call on throughout their lives.

Parents must allow help their children through the grieving process. You have to help them grow and cope with the tragedy. With your support although their friend will always have a special place in their hearts, the sadness that once encompassed their daily lives will have evolved into joy of remembering the little things that they shared. Discuss things with your kids that they remember, and keep the pictures on the wall. You need to keep in mind that your children, no matter how young, feel the loss and it is important to talk about those feelings to ease their fears. As adults we have a tough enough time dealing with death, with children it is even harder.

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