View Full Version : How do you get your child to open up?

02-01-2011, 08:13 AM
Last week we had an unexpected death in the family and raced across the country to attend the funeral. DS didn't know his uncle but he did know he had been sick. When he died, DS seemed strangely unaffected, he had no questions (very unusual) and seemed to take it all in stride. He was looking forward to meeting his only cousin, who at age 4 had just lost his daddy. We thought maybe he just didn't understand what was going on, this was his first exposure to death, so we talked about the details somewhat with him but didn't elaborate too much.

The day of the funeral he got sick, ran a fever and was really lethargic and totally unlike himself. We thought it was strange timing. When we attended the service, he quietly let loose a stream of tears, it was so heartbreaking, but afterword he refused to talk about it. He opted not to attend the actual burial so I stayed with him in the car and tried to talk to him. I gently used a few words, hoping something would make him react. I told him it was okay to feel sad, or confused or worried. At "worried" his face showed me clearly that was the culprit, but he still won't talk about it. The day after, he felt much better and yesterday he was just fine, so that shows us his "illness" was entirely stressed induced and that he did, indeed, intuitively understand exactly what was going on.

I worry about it, not just this single event but his inability to be *not okay*, that he can't express his emotions unless they are happy. I can see the writing on the wall when he's a teenager, and I want to take steps now to help him open up before the hormones start raging and his life takes on more shades of gray. Does anyone have suggestions that have helped your kids understand and *express* what they are going through? I don't want to be pushy, but I really think that if it affected him that much, he needs to be able to verbalize what's going on his head so we help him work through it.


02-01-2011, 10:07 AM
A freind of mine used to always recommend a book, i'm not sure but I think it was called 'how to talk to kid about difficult subjects'. You could check that out. But also, some kids really dont process things out loud. It might be a good idea to occasionally, over the next few months, read some books where someone dies . . . he might be more ready to talk about it after he's had time to process it. I do find its more important to be receptive when they are ready to talk - becuase it might not be when you expect them to be. You could even try acting out a funeral w dolls (action figures? legos?) and ask him to be the kid at the funeral - sometimes acting it out is easier, less personal and scary. no matter how bright, he is still a very little kid. its easy to forget when they are so verbal.

02-01-2011, 10:22 AM
Yes Cara, you're right. It is so easy to forget how young going-on-8 is, and because he's so mature in most ways, it's hard to remember he won't be in ALL situations. A book is a good idea; I'll have to check around and see what I can find.

Now that I think about it, he has a really hard time with death or almost death in movies and fictional books, too. He gets super wrapped up in stories and freaks out completely when something sad happens or is about to happen. Because he generally shows so little emotion (other than happiness, which is almost always) I may not always be aware of how sensitive he actually is. He always looks on the bright side of every situation, even when the hope of a bright side is barely visible to the rest of us, but when even he has to admit there can't be a bright side, he really cracks. We've tried to always show him that we all have emotions. I've never hid from him the days that I'm grumpy or extra sensitive and often joke about them to show him it's okay. But he holds himself to different standards than he knows we have for him and I don't know how to get around that.

02-01-2011, 10:31 AM
No advice (though Cara's was awesome), just HUGS!

02-01-2011, 11:08 AM
Sounds very age typical. They don't typically have the grasp of their emotions. We had our dog die in 2009 (it was very hard on me) and my now 8 year old just let us know a few weeks ago, more than a year after her death, that he missed her. He laid on the bed and cried her name out while crying hysterically for 45 minutes. He still does not like to talk about it.
I've been told it is good to self talk around your child (even better for bright kids) about your feelings, don't get too deep, teaching them some coping skills, make an example, but simple. It can take several weeks, months or even a year, for him to start to 'deal' with it in his own way. Maybe not knowing this Uncle he could not have any emotions about it, death is so abstract!
For my son, he is also dealing with a lot of trauma from attending public school and the death of the dog might have been buried under other issues and took that long. Our therapist suggests that we listen to his playing stories, and if we feel he is dealing with an issues to talk to the characters and help the characters deal with the issue, that way both of us can be detached from the issue and he can work out the problem from a observer perspective.

Good luck to you, they aren't connected to their mature brain as much as we'd like to think so when in so many other areas they seem ahead of the game, those kids tend to be further behind in the emotional maturity.

02-01-2011, 03:36 PM
For us, talking with them has always worked. We'd talk about the person who died & any memories we had of them. I've told them about the first funeral I remember going to. We've talked about the people dh & I lost when we were younger. We've talked to them about how we've dealt with loss, at various times in our lives. We've sat and looked through old photo albums, showing them pictures of the deceased over the years. They didn't specifically react to or actively deal with the first death they experienced, but by not making it a taboo topic, they've learned to deal with it. We're actually making a memorial in our yard for all our lost loved ones, so the kids have a place where they can honor them. They lost two great-grandparents last year & were struggling a bit because of how close they were to their great-grandparents & how close the deaths were. It's not that death is too abstract for young children to understand, it's just that most young children haven't really had to deal with it. I agree that his not knowing the uncle likely has something to do with his inability to express his feelings. He likely has a feeling that he should feel something, because it was a relative, but doesn't really know what he should feel, because he didn't know the man. The whole 'close, but at the same time detached' concept can be confusing for a young child. My advice would be to give him time & keep communication about emotions (and how to deal with them) open.

02-01-2011, 03:54 PM
Thanks everyone. I agree that it's probably extra difficult because he didn't really know his uncle, but his reaction was so quietly intense that clearly he was moved much more than we could have imagined. I would not have been as surprised if it didn't mean much because of the distance, but that it meant *so* much caught us off guard. We typically talk through everything as well, it's very unusual for him to close himself off. I just found a book at the library called "When Dinosaurs Die" that looks pretty honest; hopefully it will be a good starting point for gentle conversation.

Honestly I don't have a lot of experiences with death to bring to the table for him. I didn't really know any of my grandparents and I've been blessed to not have any other immediate family members or people close to me pass away. When DS was 4 we attended the funeral of his great grandpa (my husband's side) and he acted very unusual then as well, which now affirms to me that he was more aware even then than we knew at the time. I think I need to be even more sensitive to his emotions, to understand that sometimes they will be quiet instead of his usual rambunctious show of joy. I'm okay with him not wanting to be open about one single event, it's more a worry that he won't let us in to help him deal with those awful teenage years, which are just a couple blinks away.

I appreciate all the responses and take them all fully to heart.

02-01-2011, 05:45 PM
Well, being married to a very quiet soul, whose mother told me he was always reticent, I think some people are just quiet and thoughtful. I wouldn't push it. He may want to process it before he talks. My middle one is like that. Very quiet, very thoughtful, very analytical. And one day, it all just comes out.

02-01-2011, 07:18 PM
Well, we just read this book together as a family, and it was SO good. It was just the perfect thing, lighthearted enough but heavy enough at the same time, totally real and secular too (it showed lots of different ways of celebrating loved ones, none "better than" another, some religious and some not). We showed him the urn where we keep our beloved dog and told lots of funny stories; now my husband is telling him "I remember when" stories about his brother and grandpa and it's really helping. I think the book and conversation is providing closure, his reactions are telling us it's exactly what he needed. Thanks again to everyone.

02-01-2011, 07:35 PM
So glad you found a way!

02-01-2011, 08:23 PM
Thanks, Cara! Your suggestion was fantastic! :)

02-01-2011, 09:03 PM
Kids are more resilient than we usually give them credit for, I find. I'm sorry for your loss and am also glad you've found a way to reach him.

02-01-2011, 09:08 PM
You mean the book? I'll pass my thanks on to my freind who is always recommending it - i know her through my local attachment parenting group, and she previously worked as a childrens librarian.