Do you have any resources (websites, blogs) that you would recommend that focus on a death in the family for preschoolers/toddlers. I'm at a loss for how to communicate it to her, if we do at all given she is so young , how to explain why everyone is so sad, etc. if you have any ideas of sites to direct us to, I'd appreciate it.
I'm not sure whether to even bring her to the hospital or not. What to tell her after? How to answer all of her questions so trying to get ahead of it? Any suggestions you have are really appreciated.
I am so sorry to hear that you are likely going to lose your father. Losing a parent is one the of biggest losses that we all unfortunately have to experience. I lost my dad somewhat unexpectedly from a heart attack when I was in grad school and it was certainly a huge moment for me. I didn’t have a perfect relationship with him and I was devastated that we had drifted apart and we would never be able to have the opportunity to repair the relationship, that he’d never see me get married, and he’d never meet his future grandkids. Sometimes I still get sad about not being able to hear is long winded lectures and have a heated debate about politics with him. And we had a strained relationship. I know the depth of your sadness and grief will be palpable now and when he eventually passes.
I think that there is no way for your child to be kept in the dark. I think she will feel all of your pain, experience confusion of all the different experiences, and I think she is old enough and has enough sense at her age to be told in simple words what is happening. I think the best approach is to be honest about what is happening both about your own feelings as well as what is happening. You could say something like, “Grandpa is very sick and weak, and he isn’t going to live much longer. He won’t get better because he is old and his heart is damaged. We are all very sad and we are going to miss him very very much. Grandpa is my dad and I love him like you love your daddy. I will cry a lot because it’s very hard for me to not have my daddy anymore.”
Children are very perceptive and being honest will help your children feel less confused about what is happening. You can probably spare her the blow by blow updates because those are such a roller coaster and she won’t understand all the information and doctor lingo. It would be good to listen to her questions and responses and answer them directly and simply.
She may feel “inappropriately” or say things that don’t make sense or even seem wrong (like sometimes people are angry when someone dies and don’t know what to , but I think that it’s best to answer comments like that by saying something like “I see you are feeling a lot of things. We all are. I am here for you if you need me.”
Perhaps if you are really emotional and falling apart, that may be overwhelming for her, or get stressed and snappy. So perhaps if that’s happening your spouse can explain how you (or someone else) are feeling or you can later in a calm moment let her know that you were snappy because you are very sad and feeling hurt. You didn’t mean to get upset and you’re sorry. We’re all only human and the more important part is to just awknowledge our mistakes or weak moments and apologize to clear the air and make sure she knows she is loved and nothing is her fault.
From Janet Lansbury's blog:
Here are six guidelines from John W. James’ book When Children Grieve: For Adults to Help Children Deal with Death, Divorce, Pet Loss, Moving, and Other Losses. I can’t recommend this book highly enough…
Listen with your heart, not your head. Allow all emotions to be expressed, without judgment, criticism, or analysis.
Recognize that grief is emotional, not intellectual. Avoid the trap of asking your child what is wrong, for he or she will automatically say, “Nothing.”
Adults – go first. Telling the truth about your own grief will make your child feel safe in opening up about his or her own feelings.
Remember that each of your children is unique and has a unique relationship to the loss event.
Be patient. Don’t force your child to talk.
Never say “Don’t feel sad” or “Don’t feel scared.” Sadness and fear, the two most common feelings attached to loss of any kind, are essential to being human.
About going to the hospital to see him, maybe you can give her a choice. Since so many things are new to her, I actually don’t think she will know to be scared. Adults are more scared of hospitals and death because they know more about it. She may want to see him and say good bye and he may want to see her. But if she doesn’t want to go, maybe that’s better too. Unlike an adult she won’t spend her life regretting that she made the choice not to go. I think if Paul’s dad or mom were ill, I would take Noelle because I think it takes some of the mystery out. But I like the idea of a choice. However, I’d probably bring someone with who could leave with her when she needed so that she didn’t become stressful. Hospitals are the best environments for kids to hang out in for a long time.
My heart is with you and your family! I know that this will be a difficult time. However, in death there is an opportunity to come together as a family, to celebrate the wonderful life and memories you had together and to reflect on the many gifts we have been given by being part of each other’s lives. Let me know if I can do anything to help. I don’t have any death books here, but I would be more than happy to amazon prime some to you if you send me your address there.
Some book recommendations - I can go through them and pick some I think are best, but most of these should be appropriate for ages 3 and up.
I’ll Always Love You, a tear-jerker (as if you needed one) about a boy dealing with the death of the family dog.
What Happens When A Loved One Dies? Our First Talk About Death
When Children Grieve and The Grief Recovery Handbook (for adults), both by John James and Russell P. Friedman, provide excellent roadmaps for understanding grief and processing it in the healthiest, most productive manner possible. Their recommendations reflect all I’ve learned about healthy social emotional development through infant specialist Magda Gerber. The gist of their message: We not only all have unique responses to loss — we respond to each loss uniquely. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, share them with your child, and give her the freedom and the time to process her unique feelings, too. Unfinished grief creates problems that can have a profound effect on our life.
(Note: largely adapted from PITC’s Six Program Policies with some two-cents from Mighty Bambinis founder Evelyn Nichols www.mightybambinis.weebly.com)
In a primary care system, each child is assigned to one or two special infant/toddler care teacher who is principally responsible for that child’s care. Family childcare requires that the licensee (owner) must be present 80% of the time, to attempt to ensure a primary care exists. This fosters attachment and predictability for young children. They know who to look to for help and feel secure to try new things.
Every major research study on infant and toddler care has shown that small group size and good ratios are key components of quality care. PITC recommends primary care ratios of 1:3 or 1:4, in groups of 6-12 children, depending on the age. The guiding principle is this: the younger the child, the smaller the group. Small groups facilitate the provision of personalized care that infants and toddlers need, supporting peaceful exchanges, freedom and safety to move and explore, and the development of intimate relationships. Family childcares are licensed as a small (4-8 children, depending on ages served) and large 12-14 children, depending on ages served) to try to ensure small group size. If you choose a center, be sure to ask how many children are in each room at once AND what the child to teacher ratio is.
Continuity of care is the third key to providing the deep connections that infants and toddlers need for quality childcare. Programs that incorporate the concept of continuity of care keep primary infant/toddler care teachers and children together throughout the three years of infancy period, or for the time during that period of the child’s enrollment in care. So when choosing childcare it is important to consider if the childcare / nanny is an appropriate fit for your child when they are a young infant, mobile infant, AND a toddler. Not all settings and caregivers can grow with your child equally.
Following children’s unique rhythms and styles promotes well-being and a healthy sense of self. It’s important not to make a child feel bad about him or herself because of biological rhythms or needs that are different from those of other children. Responding promptly to children’s individual needs supports their growing ability to self-regulate, i.e., to function independently in personal and social contexts. The program adapts to the child, rather than vice versa, and the child gets the message that he or she is important, that her/his needs will be met, and that his choices, preferences, and impulses are respected.
Young children thrive with predictability and firm boundaries, but lots of freedom within those limits. Even newborns/young infants should be spoken to and invited to participate / help themselves. They should be both protected, yet seen as competent and challenged and given opportunities to make their own discoveries/do things on their own. Responsive care doesn’t mean that caregivers should always rush to pick up a child or solve all their problems / frustrations. Evelyn highly recommends the RIE principles of respectful care (Magda Gerber, Janet Lansbury, and authors Faber & Mazlish). Check out www.rie.org (infants) and http://www.janetlansbury.com/ (toddlers).
Children develop a sense of who they are and what is important within the context of culture. Because of the important role of culture in development, infant/toddler care teachers who serve families from diverse backgrounds need to:
Relationship and Family-based Care
A strong relationship between caregivers and parents is extremely important for children, especially in their earliest years. Parents and caregivers can share insights and observations, struggles and exciting developments. It’s important to choose a caregiver that you can trust to be honest, communicate with about the good and bad, and work together with to problem solve. Caregivers and parents should see each other as partners!
Some questions to ask when choosing care:
Some advice about getting into childcare in San Francisco:
Transitioning an infant or toddler into childcare or preschool can be difficult for both parents and children. Parents may experience the guilt of leaving their child with another caregiver and must develop new routines that include drop off and pick up. Children, especially those over 8- or 9-months-old, are likely to experience some separation anxiety and must adapt to a new environment and form new attachments.
However, parents can greatly diminish both their own stress and their child’s stress by creating a transition plan in conjunction with the childcare or preschool. We interviewed Evelyn Nichols, owner and director of Mighty Bambinis, a home-based childcare and preschool in San Francisco’s Sunnyside neighborhood (prior to Mighty Bambinis, Nichols was also a K-12 teacher and school administrator) to learn more about how parents can have a successful transition.
Both parents and children can experience extreme stress and guilt about transitioning.Transitioning Infants (up to 7 months old)
Nichols tells us that transitioning young infants is often easier than toddlers, primarily because infants are not as susceptible to separation anxiety. According to Kathy Zetes, former Child Development Specialist at Children’s Council San Francisco, infants have little fear of strangers and “are intrigued by studying faces and listening to voices. Anyone who smiles and talks to a 3- or 4-month-old will be rewarded with a returned smile and cooing.”
With young infants, it is helpful for new caregivers to observe parents with their infants to learn their routines, soothing techniques, and ways of being with the baby, since infants thrive on consistency. It is important for caregivers to cater to the baby’s rhythms, even if it requires compromising, rather than adjusting the baby’s routine to fit the childcare’s schedule. Overtime, children’s routines within a group setting often naturally merge together.
Nichols’ recommendations for parents transitioning infants:
Transitioning Older Infants / Toddlers (8 or 9 months and older)
By the time babies reach the second half of their first year, they start to discriminate between the faces and voices of people they are familiar with and those of strangers. Attachment to parents or an existing caregiver, such as a nanny, can make separation difficult and children may experience a fear of abandonment. Separation anxiety tends to peak at around age 18 months and is manifested in sadness, crying, tantrums, and withdrawing. Separation anxiety when starting care may last anywhere from a few days to one month, and it is important for parents to have appropriate expectations and a plan in place to manage it. If parents know that their children have a significant amount of separation anxiety, it’s best to send children to childcare full-time rather than part-time. Although this may seem counter-intuitive, young children thrive on predictability and routine. Full-time care allows them to know what to expect five days a week and to more quickly adapt to and to enjoy their new environment and caregivers. However, with older children, the focus of the transition plan is on preparing the child for the separation, and empathizing and providing support, but not “rescuing” a child experiencing separation anxiety.
Nichols’ recommendations for parents transitioning toddlers:
Nichols also emphasizes that throughout the transition period, parents and caregivers should communicate frequently to stay abreast of the child’s progress and parents should feel free to check-in during the day.
Separation anxiety can come and go, and peak at different times for children. If your child is starting care at one of these peak times, particularly if they start care part-time, a child may struggle with separation beyond what parents or caregivers feel is appropriate. Each program and family gauges how much is too much crying and stress, but if a child cries most of the day for more than two weeks, or their general well-being and mood are being significantly affected, it might be worth reevaluating whether now is an appropriate time to start care in a group setting. Most programs have a two week trial period at the start of care to allow for both parents and caregivers to feel out if the childcare arrangement is appropriate for their child at that time.
However, in the vast majority of cases, with a thoughtful transition plan and supportive caregivers, your child will shortly be on their way to enjoying school, building relationships with teachers, and making new friends.