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Talking About Loss and Sleep Solutions

Q: A close relative has been diagnosed with late-stage cancer. This will be our kids’ first experience with losing a loved one. How honest should we be with them?

A: Be honest with your children in a way that is appropriate for their age. Ignoring this topic may actually increase their anxiety about death. Offer children ways to express their feelings to the family member if appropriate, like making a card, visiting, or calling the loved one. Kids learn how to identify and handle their emotional responses primarily from their families. Showing your children that your family is a safe place to share feelings will allow them to process this loss in a healthy way.

Kids do not need to hear the medical details of what will happen throughout the cancer treatment, but can be given information about general progress coupled with opportunities to process their feelings. If your child has difficulty talking about her feelings, engage her in free play (this is the primary way children process feelings), or use books to facilitate conversation. If your family has a spiritual or religious connection, this is also an opportunity to share with your children how to use a connection with a higher power as a source of support.

As an individual you will be grieving as well, so it is also important to take care of yourself by talking to friends and family, and staying connected to any other support resources. Taking care of your own feelings will help you stay present and grounded when talking with your children.
Q: How do I keep my five-year-old in his own bed at night? I’m tempted to lock our bedroom door. Any advice?

A: Helping kids stay in their own beds involves teaching them how to self-soothe at night so that they are able to put themselves back to sleep. I would suggest that you start by having a conversation with your son about his pattern of getting into your bed at night. During this dialogue, reinforce a clear expectation that he is to stay in his own bed throughout the night. I would not suggest locking your door, as this would increase his sense of fear during the night and you would want him to have access to your room if there was an emergency. Instead, remind your child each night at bedtime that the rule is for him to stay in his own bed until morning. If he does get out of bed during the night, take his hand and gently walk him back to his room while reinforcing the rule. Do not talk excessively, read a book, or sing. Simply say something like, “The rule is to stay in your bed all through the night. You are safe, I love you, and I will see you in the morning.” Teaching your child ways to self-soothe in the middle of the night can also be helpful. If he has a stuffed animal or special blanket, remind him that he can cuddle with this item when he wakes up and this will help him go back to sleep. If you are not already using one, a nightlight can help your child feel safer when he does wake up during the night. Always remember to use encouragement. Praise your son in the morning when he is able to sleep through the night in his own bed.

Lucy Block, MS, LPC, provides therapeutic and educational services to children and families and is program coordinator of the FAM Program at Greater Richmond SCAN.
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