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Sudden Loss and Terrible Twos

Q: My husband died suddenly a month ago and we are reeling from his death. How can i help my kids, ages 4 and 6, cope with the loss of their father?

A: Although it seems unimaginable, it is best for kids to return to the natural rhythm of their daily life as soon as possible. Children do best in an environment that provides structure and routine. During this time when things are feeling out of control, look to what can be controlled. Try to get your children up at the same time every morning, have dinner on schedule, and get back to their old bedtime routine. Have your children resume any activities they had been enjoying before the tragedy. Children under the age of six are not able to grasp the permanence of death. They are by nature egocentric and worry about how this will affect their lives. Their understanding of what has happened will evolve as they grow and move through each developmental stage. This will be a long process. Let your children know that they can always come to you with any questions or feelings they may have. Try not to use euphemisms like, “Daddy passed away” or “He left us.” Young children are concrete in their thinking and this kind of language is confusing. Give them a brief but honest explanation of what happened. Let them know what will change and what will stay the same. For example, “We will not see Daddy anymore and we will miss him terribly, but, we will still live in our same house, go to your same school, and have your same friends and activities.”

It’s not unusual for young children to become clingy with the remaining parent. Know that this is to be expected but will pass in time. Sleep may also become disrupted. I am a big believer in bibliotherapy, the use of stories to help children process difficult concepts. There are many good books for young children on death. One I particularly like is Healing the Hurt, Restoring the Hope by Suzy Yael Marta.

It’s the best book I know for parents to help children deal with loss.

If at some point you feel the need for professional support, we at Commonwealth Parenting or your pediatrician can give you a list of names. Don’t feel like you need to go it alone.

Q: My son turned two a few weeks ago and has become a real handful! He doesn’t seem to listen and is having more tantrums than usual. Do you believe in the terrible twos?

A: This is what I call the intersection of the terrible twos and winter! Boys of this age do best with lots of fresh air and physical activity. Twos are by nature oppositional as they test and celebrate independence. They are also working on control of their bodies and using new-found motor skills. As the colder months arrive, twos typically get less outdoor play time. Little boys hold their tension in their bodies and need large motor play to blow off steam. The answer is to get your little guy out as much as possible, as often as possible. When I taught two-yearolds in preschool, I made sure that my little ones got out some part of every day we could. We would bundle up and go for it, if for only ten minutes. On days that we were able to get outside, our class functioned much better. If going outdoors is just not possible, try to find other opportunities for large motor activities. If your son gets his wiggle-worms out, he should be more cooperative and less easily frustrated. A by-product of all this large motor play is better sleeper. Trust me on this one!

Susan Brown holds a master’s degree in developmental psychology, as well as degrees in early childhood education and psychology. A mother, teacher, children’s book author, and nationally known family educator, she works with clients at Everyday Parenting Solutions.
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