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Ask the Experts

Q : I was wondering about children and funerals, as my child who just turned eight has a great grandmother who is 98 years old and very frail. What is your advice on wakes and funerals?

A: Funerals can be an important part of the grieving process. They are a time to symbolically say goodbye and get on the path of accepting that a loved one is no longer here. When it comes to kids attending funerals, there’s no right or wrong thing to do. Instead, it’s very context-dependent. Ask yourself some questions: Is your child anxious, or easily distracted? Does she tend to dwell on things, or do they roll off her back? Is it going to be an open or closed casket? How long will the ceremony be? Does she even want to go? You should also consider how emotional people are going to be at the funeral. As a rule of thumb, we don’t want kids to be exposed to really scary, excessive displays of emotion. And when they are, we should explain that, even if the adults around them seem upset, they are still okay, safe, and will feel better again soon. Even more reassurance should be given if it is the child’s primary caregiver who is very upset

If you do decide to take your child to the funeral, set aside time to prepare her or him for the experience. Describe what it will be like. For example, you could say that a lot of people will be wearing darker colours. There’s going to be a service, and there will be a big wooden box with grandma inside of it. There will be time for people to go say goodbye or say a prayer, but you don’t need to if you don’t want to. It isn’t a place to run around and play, but we could bring the babysitter in case you want to go outside.  The goal here is to prepare your child by explaining what to expect in developmentally appropriate language.

I’d give the same advice for attending wakes. One other consideration is that wakes tend to be several hours long, and that taxes any kid’s attention span. If you want to bring your child to the wake, plan how long you are going to stay. If  you want to be there longer than they have the capacity to stay, make arrangements ahead of time.

Finally, I just want to add that kids have all sorts of different reactions to death. Some get really sad, and that is okay. Some act oblivious or don’t seem to care, and that’s pretty normal, too. Kids tend to pop in and out of grief in a way that adults don’t. They also have different capacities to understand the permanence of death. An eight-year-old will understand it better than a younger child, but still won’t have an adult understanding.

Jamie M. Howard, PhD Senior Clinical Psychologist, Anxiety Disorders Center; Director, Trauma and Resilience Service.

Source: Child Mind Institute

Let’s talk about vaping

Despite the dangers of vaping, it still continues to be a problem, especially in middle and high schools across the country. What can parents do to make sure their children don’t get involved with vaping? Dr. Vinay Saranga M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist, offers these tips:

Show Proof: Use research, national stories, statistics, and whatever else you can to demonstrate to your teen the proven risk factors of vaping.

Talk to your kids ahead of time: Don’t lecture, rather create a safe environment to talk and answer their questions.

Know what to look and smell for: Some vaping paraphernalia look like USB drives or pens.

Don’t follow the crowd: Teach your children that even if their best friends are vaping, it’s perfectly acceptable for them to just say ‘no.’

Follow your own advice: If you want your kids to avoid vaping, you have to be a good role model.

Intervene: Being a teen is a tough time in your child’s life. It’s full of growth; hormone shifts, along with social, academic and emotional pressures. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get professional help for your child if you think they need it.


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