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How a child deals with loss and failure

How a child deals with loss and failure
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First Published: Fri, Feb 11 2011. 09 28 PM IST

Cathartic: The process of a child grieving over a parent’s death is essential to her healing and may take a long time.
Cathartic: The process of a child grieving over a parent’s death is essential to her healing and may take a long time.
Updated: Fri, Feb 11 2011. 09 28 PM IST
I am 41 and father of two daughters, aged 10 and 6. Four months ago, my wife died of cancer. Ours was a very loving and happy family. I intend to remarry and have found a suitable match. She is 36, with a son, 13, and daughter, 8. Her husband too died of cancer 18 months ago. We plan to marry during Diwali. We meet often and things are comfortable. Our children have also become well-acquainted, and all of us have met three times for fun and food. Everyone seems happy except my elder daughter, which worries me. Please guide me on how to make her understand.
Cathartic: The process of a child grieving over a parent’s death is essential to her healing and may take a long time.
The loss of her mother is still very new and raw for your little girl. Perhaps things have moved forward too fast for her on the family front. However, that does not mean you should feel guilty or stay away from your new potential partner. It only means that it is very important that you should not try to actively convince your daughter about anything. Give her time. Also, do not insist that she call the new lady “mummy” or refer to the new children in your life as her brothers or sisters. It is also important that the lady not try too hard to be her mom.
Find some way to assure your daughter that you too miss her mother. However, tell her sensitively that you will all learn to be with the new people in your lives, and ultimately, that is a good thing. Your daughter is in the early stages of grieving and still coming to terms with her loss. Give her the time and space to do this, at her own pace. Let her talk about her mother, and you too, even with your “new family”, should feel free to talk about your late wife, just a few mentions here and there. This will probably help in getting your child to “stitch together” the recent past, and the immediate future. The other children perhaps have some doubts and anxieties too. See if you can, along with some of the fun and food kind of activities, have one session devoted to remembering the departed in some nice, light way, and not in mourning mode.
I would urge you not to be anxious about your daughter coming round to the new situation at a pace you would prefer. It will be a difficult time, and you may find that you are making progress, but on some days she may seem to be deeply unhappy or troubled, and withdrawn from you or others. Just let her know and feel that you understand, and are there for her. I would advise you not to “sell” the idea of the new family very hard to her. If there are other elders, aunts and uncles or grandparents, who can smooth the way for your child in small ways, that would be good too.
Given that you seem to be moving ahead in a healthy and loving way with your future spouse and her children, it is likely that you will all be good for each other. All the best.
Our daughter’s playschool teacher tells us that she just gives up if she can’t do something very easily (such as learning to tie shoelaces), gets angry when things don’t go her way, and does not take on new tasks, preferring to do the easy things she has already mastered. The teacher does not seem to have any strategies for us to change this. Any suggestions?
Your child is possibly displaying signs of low frustration tolerance. Adults too suffer from it. In the case of adults, low frustration tolerance is often associated with taking every setback as a personal failure. And every such situation is built up in the mind as a conspiracy meant specifically to thwart or insult them!
Of course, some children will have low frustration tolerance as part of their personality make-up, and you cannot change it a whole lot; however, you can insert some steps or strategies by which your child will not be so overwhelmed by things not going her way.
Find ways to praise her efforts, not the achievements. Ultimately you will build up to her going for the achievement (say, tying a shoelace fully), but for now you could reduce the pressure that she seems to have put on herself on “getting it right”.
You will need to break down tasks into their composite bits—however simple the task is. However, remember not to simplify to such an extent that your child feels bored. Avoid giving her too many repetitive things to do.
Gently stop meltdowns in which she shouts or throws the thing she is working with, by ignoring the behaviour, and moving on to something else. And yet, don’t noisily and frantically distract her with other things, because that allows her to feel that you are now part of the meltdown, rather than part of a calmer, alternative way of doing things outside the tantrum.
If this persists, have your child evaluated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or any other issues that may be the cause of her inability to focus and persist with a task till she masters it.
Restrict her sugar intake, especially before school or when you’re about to work on a project that involves her concentrating and working consistently on it.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Feb 11 2011. 09 28 PM IST
More Topics: Learning Curve | Gouri Dange | Child | Parents | Mother |