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Talking to the Children

Here's a message for you:

Sup? TMOT, msg is Eng 4 realz. NBD 4 Ks 2 ACK. POC 4 ya gkids. NVM. NRN.

Don't you agree? And can

..- .-. . .- -.. - .... .. ... ..--..

It's all in English, just maybe not the form of it to which you are accustomed.

I understand the word 'done'. And the word 'him'. And the word 'wrong'. But if you put them together as an explanation of why a couple split up (!?) (are no longer together) I'm not exactly sure of your meaning. This has to do with nuance of a language. One may speak a language fluently, but without a knowledge of native nuance, will always seem stilted and formal.

Euphemism can also confuse. To euphemize is to use words that are less direct, but considered less distasteful. I'm between jobs. He's vertically challenged. Number one or number two? I didn't inhale. If I did it, here's how.

Those who text message regularly had no problem with the line at the top. They are acclamated to it. Anyone with Morse Code practice knows all those dots and dashes are a question. Again, they use it and get it (understand completely).

Children may speak English, but are not yet aware of nuance or euphemism. We teach it to them, but they are not yet aware. That's why adults find it humorous to ask a woman with a cast on her arm if she has a boo boo.

In our culture we are very uncomfortable with the biological names of body parts. We would cringe if our child began discussing them in aisle four. So we give body parts pet names.

The same is true of death. It's scary. Icky. We don't like it. It makes us do weird things like show emotion, and we can't have THAT!

So we give the dying process cute, manageable names. Adults understand the full brunt of the meaning. But when it comes to explaining it to kids, we do them a disservice. The result of which can be a lifetime of pain and misunderstanding.

Granted, things get kind of crazy (disorganized and irregular) when death is pending, or occurs traumatically. We are not in a frame of mind (thinking clearly) to think of such, to us, small details. But it means a great deal to the child.

Commonly we tell kids that Grandpa has 'gone to heaven'. If a child hasn't had regular religious instruction, heaven might just be an exit off of Interstate 80. When is Grandpa coming back? 'We'll see him in heaven'. So the kid wonders if he should pack.

'Grandpa went to be with Auntie Em and Fluffy'. What? Fluffy? My friend Fluffy? They told me he ran away. I thought he didn't love me any more. I felt really bad when Fluffy left. Now you say he's in heaven with Grandpa? Did Grandpa run away? Did Grandpa mess the rug, too?

Don't wait until you're in the middle of such a situation to talk about it. Fall is an excellent time to bring it up. Plants die. People do, too. It's part of the Circle of Life. Our bodies stop working, and we don't need them any more. We turn the dead plants into the ground. We do the same with bodies no longer needed. We're sad when our friends and family are gone, and we miss them. But at the same time, we're happy we got to be with them for a while. Please make it clear to the child that the person is not coming back. This is critical.

Please tell the child s/he was loved by Grandpa.

It's also important to give the child permission to ask questions. Just as important for you to answer them, simply and honestly. Tell the child they can bring the subject up any time. If the time happens to be inconvenient, tell them their questions will be answered, and when.

Accidents need to be explained exactly for what they are - an unfortunate series of circumstances. Sometimes people die because of it. It's hard, but also part of life. You may want to add that this is the reason the parents try so hard to keep the child safe, but be cautious here. The child's mind will go right to assigning blame, and that's not what we're looking for (not the optimum outcome).

Which brings up a point in the documented, natural development of any child. When something bad happens, the child will take responsibility. Accident, divorce, injury, death, the child will assume guilt. This comes from the child's focus on himself as center of the universe. So if something happens in that universe, it must have been something s/he did. Please, please assure the child otherwise.

Give permission to the child to show emotions. Give kids options and examples on how to show their grief. Without this outlet, feelings get pent up (proceed unmanaged). The child has no idea what to do with all these feelings he doesn't understand. What you end up with is a misbehaving child, just when you need a calm one the most.

Of course, murder and suicide are a whole different ball game (set of circumstances) to be discussed another time.

For now, join the trend to deal honestly with the nation's kids. Our kids. They'll have plenty other boo boos that need tending. This need not be one of them.

Shalom.

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