Wednesday, June 26, 2013

How Children Understand Death

                                                                Image by Nuchylee source
This year’s Fathers Day will forever be engraved in my memories because as a family, we celebrated it sending off a beloved uncle, my son’s grandfather. For a man who taught me, or almost did teach me how to ride a bike, because I freaked out when my leg was caught in the bicycle chain, I have lots of fond memories about him. He was like an age mate to me.  He was 10 years older than me, yet each time I spoke to him I could not feel this difference. His hard work and love for family touched me and I wish to carry it on. 

According to my Christian faith, I believe that one day we will be reunited again, in heaven. He has just gone ahead of us to a place we are all destined to go. Therefore, it is upon me to live a righteous life so that I can also make it there. However, for children, such beliefs may not make any sense to them depending on their age groups.

The fact is that children know something about death.  After all they see it on TV stations and act it out during play. Therefore, it is not new to them.  Faking stories about a departed loved one would only be doing more harm than good. It is therefore, important to be open and give all  age specific and simple answers about death to these groups.

1.    Pre-scholars

They think death is temporary and reversible.  You may have noticed if your child between the ages of one to five/six owns a water gun, he will shoot at you countless times and will even ask you to ‘die’. At this stage they are impersonal about death. I noticed the same thing with my six-year-old son, during my uncle’s funeral he would curl around my bereaved teenage cousin so he could rouse some play. The poor boy did not know it was not the right time to play. Even though I was open about what had happened and was going on, he was still distant.

2.    5 -9 years

This group believes that death is final for all living things. They may relate death with skeletons and even have nightmares. However, children in this age bracket can be reassured with the religious beliefs of the guardians or parents, such as mine, that one day both the dead and the living will be united in heaven. Healing for such children can only be achieved if parents are truly honest and communicate what they viewpoints on death. It is also important to let the children express themselves by mourning instead of letting them suppress the pain they feel.

Telling children that a beloved went to sleep may make them fear going to sleep for they may never wake up. Sometimes, answers such as your grandpa, grandma, dad, mum, auntie or uncle went far away or may never come back may invoke rejection. They may wonder whether the departed truly loved them if they are never coming back. Such children may also fear being left on their own. Children in this age group should be let to view the body of the departed only if they agree to it to prevent them from having nightmares.

3.    10 years to Adolescence

These lots understand death is irreversible and they could go about looking for the meaning of life in all the wrong places. Some teenagers get into drugs or become social misfits due to the loss of their loved ones. Therefore, family members should try to be as supportive as possible to this group by engaging in constant communication and by giving realistic directions in life.

Children understand death differently according to their ages. Therefore, parents, family, friends or guardians should never let children grieve alone. My auntie has a great task ahead with her children, but with the help of relatives and friends she will be fine. I pray to God she will be.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Your Child’s Safety in Apartments

My heart goes out to a virtual friend who lost his son this week through a fall from an apartment building. It is not clear, how the boy fell off as the father works outside town, while the boy lives with the mother and other siblings in the city. The siblings watched helplessly as their brother fell from the third floor of the building where they live. With the help of good neighbors, the boy was rushed to hospital, but the doctors could not save him. The boy’s tender life was cut short unexpectedly.
                                                        Image Source courtesy of Basketman
When I learnt about this, a cold shiver went down my spine as I imagined how many children are at risk in the urban areas, including my boy. Home ownership is a pipe dream for most families and not even the current home prices are encouraging. I wonder how many of us can afford to buy a home without taking out mortgage? Besides, with increased population in the cities, property owners have to make good use of their land by building high-rise buildings to accommodate as many people as possible. While such homes are cheaper, they also turn out to be costly as far children’s lives are concerned.

There are safety policies that property owners should go by, but they have not put them in place. Take the fire safety policy as an example.  I have only seen a few apartments with fire extinguishers, which are maintained regularly. When it comes to balconies, tenants are left to fend for themselves and their children. Although some property owners have gone ahead to put up barriers  on balconies of apartments, most land lords have either not thought about children or are bending a rule somewhere.

It is upon us parents to make sure that our children are safe at all times while living in apartments. We can make certain of this by doing the following:
  •  Children should play on balconies and patios under supervision of adults. When children are left on     their own, they tend to explore the most of dangerous things.
  •  Placing furniture on balconies could lead to children climbing on them. Hence, it should be avoided.
  • When searching for vacant apartments, it is best to settle for those that have full barriers on the balconies, that is, from the ceiling downwards. In case they are metal bars, the gaps between them should not be wide since a child can slip through easily. The windows should also have strong barriers as children love to climb on them to see the world below.
  • Staircases should be free from strewn toys and other objects as they can cause falls.
  • Installing a gate to prevent crawling babies from getting to the staircase is a good idea. However, it should be adjustable or be removed when the baby grows old enough to manage climbing on it.
  • Incomplete buildings pose greater risks of falls for children. Therefore, no matter how inexpensive they may be, parents should avoid them.
  •         Children living in apartments with elevators should be taught on elevator safety.