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Ask Dr. Shirley Schaye Your Own Question

Dr. Shirley Schaye
Dr. Shirley Schaye, Doctor
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 1673
Experience:  PhD-Psych; Certif. Psychoanalyst NPAP& NYFS; Memb.APsaA;IPA; Pub.Author; Teach/Supervise Therapy
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Back in January of this year I took my son to the cemetary

Customer Question

Back in January of this year I took my son to the cemetary to place flowers at my niece's grave. I didn't say where we were going but when we got there he began to ask questions. I kept it as brief and simple as possible when I answered him. He asked why people put flowers there and I said they do it becuase they miss the person. The next time I took him to preschool he was in a panic. He didn't want me to leave and each time he cried hysterically from the second he woke up asking to stay home and saying "promise you will come back" "promise you will always take care of me." The teacher says that he spends the entire time at school asking if I will come back. This has been going on for 4 weeks.After 3 weeks he had made himself so sick he became consitpated and we went to the Dr. Fixed that but now he spends the time at school asking to constantly go to the bathroom, asking if I will make it back, and he refuses to participate, play or even eat his snack. His stomach is sick when he is not with me and the teacher says he becomes even more nervous and anxious duriing story time which is at the end of school. I asked him why is this and he said he worries about me driving to get him. It's not just school. I left him in the car with my husband and his brother for 5 min while I went into the store and when I came out he was hysterial saying "I thought something happen to you!" He has done this a couple other times if I run into places without him. He also has developed an almost obsession with making sure that everyone that leaves he kissses and says good-bye I love you up until the second they close the door. He doesn't have the separation anxiety from them like with me but he does want to be sure he says good-bye and hugs and kisses them. I understand this is normal but at this age he understands the finality of death and that it means not coming back. I need to figure out how to assure him I'm coming back without lieing to him saying I will never die. Is there any books? All I can find is talking to kids about death but I don't need that I need to know how to help him understand I am not going to die if I leave his sight.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Parenting
Expert:  Dr. Shirley Schaye replied 2 years ago.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

I am so...ooo very sorry to hear about what is going on with your son. You have asked what to tell himthat will help. You are doing that already and the trauma of visiting your niece's grave at the cemetery is what is frightening him, as you must well know. I don't think there is anything else that you cn be doing that you are not already doing except bring him for some sessions to a child therapist to help him work this out.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Now let me ask you first what your niece died of so maybe we can, at least try that IF and I say IF there is something besides a child therapist that may also work. Tell me more about what happened with this niece.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Let me also explain about a child's cognitive development so you will understand better, even though your son is a smart little boy, how a child of his age ( If he is in pre-school --- he's what about 3 or 4??)

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

So let me explain about Piaget and Child cognitive development so that you can see where your son falls and what at his age he will understand.


Jean Piaget,described the mechanism by which the mind processes new information. He said that a person understands whatever information fits into his established view of the world. When information does not fit, the person must reexamine and adjust his thinking to accommodate the new information. Piaget described four stages of cognitive development and relates them to a person's ability to understand and assimilate new information.


 



  1. Sensorimotor: (birth to about age 2)

    During this stage, the child learns about himself and his environment through motor and reflex actions. Thought derives from sensation and movement. The child learns that he is separate from his environment and that aspects of his environment -- his parents or favorite toy -- continue to exist even though they may be outside the reach of his senses. Teaching for a child in this stage should be geared to the sensorimotor system. You can modify behavior by using the senses: a frown, a stern or soothing voice -- all serve as appropriate techniques.


     



  2. Preoperational: (begins about the time the child starts to talk to about age 7)

    Applying his new knowledge of language, the child begins to use symbols to represent objects. Early in this stage he also personifies objects. He is now better able to think about things and events that aren't immediately present. Oriented to the present, the child has difficulty conceptualizing time. His thinking is influenced by fantasy -- the way he'd like things to be -- and he assumes that others see situations from his viewpoint. He takes in information and then changes it in his mind to fit his ideas. Teaching must take into account the child's vivid fantasies and undeveloped sense of time. Using neutral words, body outlines and equipment a child can touch gives him an active role in learning.


     



  3. Concrete: (about first grade to early adolescence)

    During this stage, accommodation increases. The child develops an ability to think abstractly and to make rational judgements about concrete or observable phenomena, which in the past he needed to manipulate physically to understand. In teaching this child, giving him the opportunity to ask questions and to explain things back to you allows him to mentally manipulate information.


     



  4. Formal Operations: (adolescence)

    This stage brings cognition to its final form. This person no longer requires concrete objects to make rational judgements. At his point, he is capable of hypothetical and deductive reasoning. Teaching for the adolescent may be wideranging because he'll be able to consider many possibilities from several perspectives.



So this is important to understand so that you could understand where your son's cognitive development is.

Customer:

Well actually, I have three nieces that died. They were my brother's 3 little girls and they died at birth, a set of twins girls and another little girl. They passed within 8 months of each other. My son was too little to remember the situations but we talk about the girls all the time. He has gone with me in the past to the cemetery but there was about an 7 month gap since the last time he went. I guess his little mind is developing and he now understands things better. I think when I said to him that people miss those that died and his understanding of death kind of all came together for him. My son is 4 1/2 but his mind seems to work on the older side if that makes sense. I have never said to him people die when they get sick so that hasn't been an issue but for some reason (maybe he saw or heard this some where) he is concerned about me dieing in an accident when out of his sight.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

So you could see before age 7 a child cannot really understand, no matter how smart they are, abstract thinking.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Oh my, how heartbreaking!!!!!!!!! How heartbreaking!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Let me read again what you wrote and reflect on it.

Customer:

No he doesn't understand truly. He knows that death means a person is gone and that is what he worries about. But the context he is applying it to is not just me going away it's in some sort of accident. His panic towards the end of school is because he knows I 'm in the car driving to get him. He isn't afraid to drive with me and there hasn't been any accident with us. I just want to make sure I tell him comforting things without just saying I'm not gonna die because that's a lie. Such a difficult subject as a parent.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

It's complicated. I understand, no question about it, that you don't want to lie to him. Yes, he is starting to put things together. You might want to try --- and I don't know why they died but something like they were very little and the doctor couldn't find anything to help them. How old was the one who died 8 months later and what did she die of?

Customer:

All three died at birth. I explained to him that their little bodies were too small and the and they didn't spend enough time in their mommy's tummy and the Dr tried everything. He said OK and said they should have stayed in there longer.(typical child response lol) His issue with death isn't the unexplained sickness, he seems to understand that, it's the tragic accident that seems to run through his mind. It is consuming him whenever I'm not in his sight. He feels that he can some how prevent it if he is with me.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

If all your explanations don't work it would help to bring him to a child therapist because kids don't really talk about what is going on. Children don't sit down and tell us what they are upset about/ what is bothering them. They show their anxiety behaviourally as your son is doing. Because children don't talk that's why we child therapists do play therapy with children. The child when in a therapist's office will engage in play and then the therapist can interpret what is going on. .

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Oh he sounds precious!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

They should have stayed in their mommy's tummies longer.

Customer:

His teacher said to me yesterday he's just not the same little boy that use to come in here. :'(

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

So this is what I would try. You know ( name the 3 nieces if he knows their names ) they weren't lucky like you, ( add any other children if you have them), like daddy, like mommy. We were able to stay in our mommy's tummies long enough so that we didn't die. We were really lucky!

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

You get my drift. Don't go into any explanations --- too abstract. In other words you are being concrete by saying something like I just said.

Customer:

I understand, yes that makes sense. How do I address the fear of me being in an accident when he isn't with me?That is what he is most afraid of and what has created this separation anxiety.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Don't bring it up UNLESS he does. So, let's say he does. This is what you say --- again --- over and over again ---You know ( name the 3 nieces if he knows their names ) they weren't lucky like you, ( add any other children if you have them), like daddy, like mommy. We were able to stay in our mommy's tummies long enough so that we didn't die. We were really lucky! We didn't die because you were in my tummy long enough and I was in my mummy's tummy long enough and daddy was in his mommy's tummy long enough.

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Remember --- CONCRETE THINKING. Read what I wrote about Jean Piaget and Cognitive Development

Dr. Shirley Schaye :

Try it.

Customer:

Ok Thank you so much for your time. I do hope I can help him. He makes him sick asking me to promise I will come back and promise I will always take care of him.

Dr. Shirley Schaye, Doctor
Category: Parenting
Satisfied Customers: 1673
Experience: PhD-Psych; Certif. Psychoanalyst NPAP& NYFS; Memb.APsaA;IPA; Pub.Author; Teach/Supervise Therapy
Dr. Shirley Schaye and 2 other Parenting Specialists are ready to help you
Expert:  Dr. Shirley Schaye replied 2 years ago.
If you reconsider wanting to have a child therapist to see him let me know your city, state and zip code and I will help you find someone who is adequately trained. Not all people who see children have extensive training in child therapy.
Expert:  Dr. Shirley Schaye replied 2 years ago.
Here are some links that you may find helpful. Take a look.

http://www.babycenter.com/0_how-to-talk-to-your-preschooler-about-death_65688.bc

http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/talk/death.html#

Also here is a link to Amazon.com for Books on dealing with death with young children: See which ones appeal to you.

http://www.amazon.com/Childrens-Books-About-Religiously-Neutral/lm/R18ZC9W6UKJ5P1

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