My five year old granddaughter has a love of toads and frogs. She has found a family of toads who have made their home in the sandy ground by one of her basement windows. She calls me often to let me know where her frogs (alias the toads)are and what they have been up to. She called Sunday to tell me that the momma frog was dead.
Keeping in mind that she was only five and had not experienced much death, I tried to soften the mood by telling her that maybe her momma frog (alias toad) hopped off to visit her frog friends.
In her most grown-up voice she stated, " Mamaw. her head was flat, her arms and legs are straight , and her belly is squished. She is dead mamaw, for real. "
Now, the point to this story is this. Kids know more than we think they know about life, death, and love. They are also more capable of handling some of the things that we work so hard to protect them from.
Parents who have a child who is dealing with a severe illness, for instance, probably understand what it means to be sick. Our job as adults is to be as honest as we can about a situation. If the procedure will hurt, we should tell the child that it might be painful while assuring them at the same time that we are there.
If a medicine tastes terrible, we should say it tastes terrible but offer a treat after the medicine is down. If we don't have the answer to the questions they ask about their illness or the prognosis, then we should be honest and say that we just don't have the answer to that.
The important thing is to build trust, to be as honest as possible depending on the child's age, and to reassure the child that we are there along side them for the long haul. Most importantly, we should never put the child in the position of trying to protect us and our feelings from what they might already know to be the truth.
I know these things to be true from my experience as a pediatric critical care nurse, but it took my granddaughter and her dead frog (alias toad) to remind me of just how smart our kids are, for real.
For more information on children coping with illness or death and dying issues, or health and safety tips for children visit http://heartfeltwords4kids.blogspot.com
Visit http://www.freewebs.com/heartfeltwords4kids/ for an interactive website where kids can blog or read articles geared towards them.
Terri Forehand is a pediatric critical care nurse and freelance writer. She has a passion for kids of all ages, especially kids who are fighting against tough illnesses and diseases. Visit her blog and website for more information. She is currently working on fiction for kids.