Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Dealing with Loss

By: Jenn Ripepi, MD, The Choosy Pediatrician 

The loss I am referring to is not small losses but eventual big losses. But how we handle small loss can be building blocks to bigger losses. Resiliency is the catch word I'm talking about and there is more research about how important resiliency is to become well-adjusted adults.

Let's Start With a "Little" Thing Like a Lost Toy

What we say to our children is important for them getting prepared for larger disappointments. For example, if we downplay the loss by calling the child's concern unimportant, we are not showing empathy for their attachment to the object. Conversely, if we spend an inordinate amount of time looking for the object or, worse yet, replacing the lost toy whatever the cost, then we may give more importance to the object rather than to the feelings about the object. Tricky, huh?

So How Do We Go About This Task? 

One way is to ask children to try to express their feelings about the loss. Maybe using an example of your own. Using words like sad, lonely or worried may help. Ask about what children think they can do to help get over those feelings or what you can do to help. Older children may be able to imagine what they can do to recover from the toy being gone from their daily life. Maybe they could draw a picture of themselves playing with that toy as a reminder of the fun they had. Or maybe it wasn't really that important and they move on quickly. No need to fret that they have not dealt with it. They have moved past it. They have shown resilience!

Now Something a Bit Bigger Like a Pet

Whoa! That's pretty big to some families. Or maybe it's not a pet but a bird or bug which you notice on a walk. Sometimes that can be a powerful encounter. Again, consider asking questions of children or telling them your feelings of sadness, emptiness or loneliness for the death or physical loss of an animal. These feelings of grief may go on a while if your pet was deeply involved in your family life. Let children know that whatever they feel is OK. Sometimes recalling memories or looking at pictures of your pet and telling happy stories about how the pet enriched your lives is helpful. Stating gratitude for having known your pet whether it is a fish or cat or dog or horse shows children that you accept that sometimes animals are in our lives for just a brief time or a long time.

Now On To People

Heavy subject. Maybe it's not people who have died but people who have moved away or who we've moved away from. Sometimes the person is still with us physically but is unreachable emotionally--like the loss of a friendship. These are very difficult topics and many of us have trouble discussing them at all. But giving voice to these concerns is the way that children learn how to express those whirling churning feelings inside themselves. Saying things like "Mommy is crying because she feels achy inside since Gramma is gone." or "Sometimes I get frustrated because I can't understand why my friend Pete won't talk to me anymore." Apologizing for our feelings does not show resiliency. Denying what we feel inside is not a healthy adjustment. Expressing those emotions and showing our children healthy ways to deal with them like taking a break for vigorous exercise when we feel frustrated, a walk when we feel overwhelmed or helping someone else out when we feel detached from others are great ways to deal with strong emotions. Drawing, writing, pretending and physical activity are ways children can begin to deal with these. Overeating is not a good way to deal with emotions. It can be difficult to lose sight of that sometimes.

Healthy Responses is Key

Teaching children to deal with loss by not trying to "fix" it, overreact to it or blame it on others does not help them to become resilient. Using healthy responses, giving voice to our emotions and supporting children to find their way through loss can go a long way to them becoming healthy, adjusted adults.

Has your family had to deal with a loss of any kind? I’d love to hear your story so we can all help each other with healthy responses.

About the Author: I have been a pediatrician for over 25 years. My husband and I have been privileged to raise 4 bright and healthy children. I have tried to gather wisdom from the families I have been blessed to meet during my journey. I believe in practical and flexible parenting to help raise healthy adults. I love to garden, hike, travel and cook and I am looking forward to hearing from Choosy followers.


  1. Thanks for the amazing advice. My daughter became distraught when I accidentally smushed a slug she had been playing with. Not only did she sob when she saw it, but she brought it up for weeks later. When she wrote a letter to the slug, it helped her feel better.

  2. So glad she got to resolve her loss. She's on her way to learning more about herself.

  3. Thank you for this article. My son has anxiety over his Grandmother who recently fell and broke her hip. While she is fine, he was terrified that she was going to pass on like his fish did. I like how you take it step by step for the little ones.

  4. Glad to know that your son's grandmother is OK. These events can be a real surprise for all of us.

  5. This is such good advice. Luckily I haven't come across a situation like this yet but I am definitely going to remember this.

  6. Something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day.


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