Tragedy and loss can impact our children’s lives in many ways. The situations that trigger loss can be as far-reaching as a national tragedy, natural catastrophe, or threats of such realities. Or they can be as personal as the death of a family pet or his best friend’s move to another town. Whatever the loss, we need to be sensitive to our children’s feelings. As parents, we can provide comfort and guidance to help our kids understand what has occurred; express their emotions; and help them cope, adjust, and move on with life.

Kids with learning difficulties

Children who have learning difficulties face special challenges during a time of loss. For example:

  • Justin, who has Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with poor impulse control, may “act out” his feelings of anger and fear. You can help him channel such behavior by providing physical outlets for his feelings; extra outdoor play or even a punching bag can help. When he calms down, help him talk through his feelings and find other ways to express overwhelming emotions.
  • If Sara thrives on structure, she may be upset when routines at home or school change. Try to keep the routine at home as normal as possible. Sometimes, especially if the loss is a personal one, maintaining normalcy can be difficult. If that happens, be sure to ask other adults to help you handle details (funeral arrangements, for example) to minimize disruption of your child’s routine.
  • If staying organized is a struggle for Allison, it may become even harder during a time of loss. Her mind may be too preoccupied to keep her schoolwork, her bedroom, even her clothes “together.” If this happens, try not to criticize her; be patient and offer her extra help.

Signs of stress

Kids often find it difficult to tell their parents what they feel. Because many kids with learning challenges have a problem with language, verbalizing their feelings may be extra hard for them. Observing children’s behavior is as important as listening to their words. Watch for these signs of stress:

  • Eating more, or less, than usual.
  • Sleeping more, or less, than usual. Nightmares may become a problem.
  • Demanding more of your attention; doesn’t want to be separated from you.
  • Acting out by hitting, pushing, or fighting with siblings or friends.
  • Suffering from new physical ailments, such as stomach aches, headaches.

Let them know you think something may be bothering them and encourage them to talk about it. Be accepting and non-judgmental as you listen to their concerns. Getting their feelings out in the open starts the process of coping with the situation. If problems persist, consult with your child’s pediatrician or counselor.

Day by day

Remember that a period of loss can last for weeks or months. Remind your child that someday he’ll feel better again. Progress may be slow, so be patient and acknowledge even his smallest successes. As always, celebrate his happy and proud moments. It will help both of you remember the joy life has to offer.