Saturday, June 15, 2013

Lying To A Child About Death Is Not A Good Idea

Dear Tazi:

My little sister is the product of a second marriage, so there is a large age difference between us (about 15 years). I love her dearly, and wanrt to protect her from life's little sadnesses that seem to devastate children.

"Lola" is five years old and has a pet goldfish. Lola loves her goldfish like most children love their pets - heart and soul! Goldfish do not live that long, so I am afraid that Lola's pet has a shelf life of less that six months at this point. Our grandfather recently died and Lola did not take it well at all. She has had nightmares and is concerned that everyone she loves is going to die, too - including her beloved pet fish.

Should Lola's fish die, I am considering replacing the fish before she notices (I am the one who feeds it and cares for it; she just enjoys it). I am not sure if this is the right thing to do, though. If I were to go through with my plan, I would tell nobody - once you share a secret it is no longer a secret! I am just afraid that maybe Lola will be able to tell the difference between her fish and the replacement fish. Am I making a mountain out of a molehill, as my Grandpa always said I did?

Big Sis

Dear Big Sis:

The love you show for Lola is a beautiful thing, and your desire to protect her at this vulnerable time in her life is commendable, but I do not think you should deny Lola the opportunity to grieve her losses. So often when we try to shield children from pain we end up leaving them unable to develop emotionally.

Lola's reaction to the passing of your Grandpa is not unusual in young children, especially if the death was unexpected and the child close to the loved one who passed. Rather than cross a bridge that has yet to appear on the horizon, I think you should try to work through the difficulties Lola is currently facing.

While children do not always benefit from counseling, counseling is not always necessary. I suggest instead that you try to spend time with Lola one on one, and when she feels ready to talk about her fears and stresses, gently respond. Do not push away her concerns by telling her they will not happen because in her mind they can - and will, which is why she is so stressed. Instead, validate Lola's feelings by telling her that you are sad, too, so you understand how she feels and that it is okay to feel scared and alone but that she is not; let her know that she has you and her mother and father who love her and want to be there with her to see her grow up. If your Grandpa's death was due to illness, explain this to Lola in terms she can understand and grasp. If you are religious, explain the concept of Heaven to her. You have my deepest sympathies on your loss.

To answer your question about buying Lola a new fish, I would not recommend this - you will only be putting off the inevitable and giving the girl false hope that future fish will have an equally long life-span, leading to a charade that will have to be repeated until Lola is old enough to catch on - and then you really will have a mountain to overcome instead of just a molehill.


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

No comments:

Post a Comment