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Five-year-old dealing with grief and aggression


telpinaro February 5, 2013

My son has been having a rough time lately. A few months ago, his dog died of old age. A couple of weeks ago, his father deployed to the middle east for a year. Then, last week, his other dog died due to a brain tumor. It's pretty awful; sometimes he's happy and he plays, other times he cries and misses his dogs and his daddy.
Unfortunately, he's reacting aggressively towards other kids at school; he is unable to keep his hands to himself and has on several occassions hit another child.
Obviously, he's sad, upset, and angry about all his losses. Still, he can't continue being unsafe at school. Any ideas? I know to be reassuring and supportive, and that he'll end up dealing with this in his own time and way, but the hitting needs to stop! It's not safe behavior at school.

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TeacherParent February 6, 2013

It's understandable to be sad and angry both about his several losses but it's not ok to hit. Despite his sorrow, there's everything right with telling him that and encouraging him to consider whether the hitting actually makes him feel better - I'm sure it doesn't - and then working together to find things that do make him feel better. This would be a good time for caring grandparents and aunts and uncles to make a special effort to come and visit if possible and if your time allows, it's a good time to make some special plans with your son to help him through this time. I'm not as sure that a 5 year old will end up dealing with this in his own time and way and as of now, the way he's dealing with it is to strike out at other children. Left on his own to deal with it as a 5 year old, he's showing that he needs some help to find a smoother path through his sorrow.
Is there a guidance counselor at his school? Does the military offer families any counseling services? Are there other families with children in your area with a parent away? It's a good time to tap into what services there might be- guidance counselors are usually trained to help young children work through issues just like the ones your son is dealing with.

A new pet can sometimes help to heal the hurt from the loss of a pet. And ideally your son's teacher should be extra alert right now and offer warm sympathy to your son and be another guide to help him through this.


Laudistra February 17, 2013

When my son was 4, his daddy was deployed to the Middle East for over a year. He also reacted inappropriately for awhile. I made sure that he knew that his daddy loved him and missed him. We would write emails and letters together to Dad. I kept his Dad in the loop about even little things with daily emails of my own, and he told us what was going on with him so we could talk about what he was doing, like going to the gym, interesting food he ate, or the fact that the water was so hot that even the cold ran hot, etc. It helped the kids to feel connected. He told us about the tiny metal "pod" that he lived in, so we sent magnets to stick on the walls. We all went about monthly to pack up gifts and treats for soldiers overseas at a local organization, including for their Dad. We included some school papers and drawings the kids did, or newspaper articles we thought he'd like. The desert sand would blow into his room, so we sent him a door insulating strip. He really appreciated it. Having the kids involved in trying to find things to tell Dad or send to him helped a lot. Also, we planned a family vacation for his return. We each chose an activity to do on our "dream vacation". We did the planning and kept Dad apprised of our progress. When he got back, our extended family (including our grown daughter's family) went to Virginia Beach, to the military cabins. The nine of us spent 6 nights there and each day we did one or two things the kids chose...go to the beach, go hiking, the aquarium, etc. Even though my son was only almost 5 then, he vividly remembers the trip 8 years later. All the kids still talk about it fondly. They are focused on the family trip vs. the long time apart.


Laudistra February 17, 2013

And for the pet part, we had lost our cat recently, but chose NOT to get a new social pet while Dad was away, because it would consider Dad to be a stranger. Instead, we got a couple of gerbils for the time being. A few months after Dad came home, we had an opportunity to rescue a runt kitten that was left to die in somebody's yard. Gerbils were nice because they can be held and pet, but they didn't treat Dad as a stranger when he returned.

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