Helping kids deal with death

 I know this is a heavy topic this week.  Early Sunday morning my husband’s grandma passed away.  She was 97 and lived a long, full, wonderful life.  Despite all that, it is still sad to have her gone.

In light of her passing and the events to come, a relative wrote in: “How can I help my children cope with death of a loved one?  I’m especially concerned about the viewing.”

Dealing-with-deathphoto credit

Death can be a really hard thing for kids to understand and deal with.

As I thought about this, my mind went back to the first death I dealt with.  Here is the journal entry my 9-year-old self wrote:

IMG_3487“8-8-95  My Great grandma died.  My hamster died the same day it was a hard day.  I was rilly sad. And I’m still sad. I went to her funaral it was my first funaral.  She died a few days before her Birthday.  She died 8-2-95.”

Here I am 16 years later and I still feel a lot of those same things now.  Having someone die who is close to us is sad and I don’t think that will ever change.  Here are some good ways to help young children work through that grief and find comfort, hope, and peace:

Listen.  It is healthy for kids to talk about what they are thinking and feeling.  This also helps them identify what is bothering them the most.  Sometimes, as adults we get tired of them asking questions or talking about it so much.  But try to be patient and let them talk. They may start to worry that they could die, or one of their parents (not just an old person) might die.  On the other hand, some children will not want to talk about it, but need to be encouraged to do so.

Let them cry and grieve.  This seems to be the most painful part: the many tears and the heartache.  Yet this is part of the process to healing and accepting.  Convey that to your child!  It is natural and healthy to feel sad.  The length of time a child/person needs to grieve is different for every individual.  Bear in mind that it may not go completely away.  I still feel sadness for those I have lost even thought many years have past.  The good news is that as time passes the hurt lessens.

Tell happy memories.  When my maternal grandmother passed away about 5 years ago we had a ‘memory sharing’ at the gravesite.  I remember how nice it was to share my happy memories about her and hear memories other had as well.

Talk about the afterlife/religion. I have always found a great amount of peace knowing that I will see my loved ones after this life.  Also remember that lots of questions will likely arise.  Be open and honest as you answer questions your kids have.  My knowledge has always been an incredible anchor during these hard times.  This little video is a good way to show kids about our bodies and spirits.

Write in a journal.  If your child already has a journal they could write their feelings and memories there.  If they don’t yet own a journal it could be a good opportunity to start one.  It could also be special if you put together a ‘remembering journal’ as a family.  Each family member could write a few memories, you could glue in pictures, and record the feelings each person has.

Give them choices about the funeral/viewing.  It is beneficial to be open and give your children some choices.  If they have never been to a funeral or viewing, explain what will take place.  Let them know that at a viewing the body may look different than they remember.  Let them know that if at any time during the viewing or funeral they feel uncomfortable they can sit really close to you, take a little break (go into the hallway or step outside for a couple minutes), close their eyes, or take a bathroom break.

Remember that although there is no way to completely erase all the heartache that accompanies death, talking, crying, journaling and retelling happy memories can help children work through the grieving process

Time IN vs Time OUT


You’ve probably heard of Time Out, but are you familiar with the term Time In?

We posted a piece that gave some background information about the way the brain works. If you’d like to read that before you learn about Time In click here.

Time out – To send a child who is “out of control” to an isolated spot to cool down. In time out a child spends time alone without other people or toys. When it was started, time out was a good alternative to spanking. Time out is often prefaced with a request for a child to go to their room and “think about what they did wrong”.


  • There is some peace and quiet for the parent because of separation from a screaming, thrashing or whining child.
  • It can separate two (or more) feuding children
  • It offers a child some time to settle down.                                                                    

 Disadvantage –

  • It does not change behavior.
  • It does not teach the child any new strategies to learn to self-regulate
  • They don’t always have the mental tools to figure out “what they did wrong”
  • Before age 7 -8 children do not think concretely. They cannot reason with themselves and think,  “I was sent to time out because I threw a small metal car at my brother and it hit him in the head. Now he might have to go to the hospital and get stitches, which could be painful for him and expensive for my parents” OR “If my sister is standing by the window and I throw a toy at her and it misses her, it could break the window”. They can’t come up with these ideas on their own. But if these types of ideas are explained to them, they can remember and use the information when the situation happens again.  By explaining situations and reasoning with your child, they begin to learn to how to handle situations appropriately, by themselves.

Mom w_ 3 year old Brad

(Do you love this picture as much as I do?!  This is my momma experimenting with ‘time in’ back in the 80s with my older brother.)

Time in -To take a child to a quiet spot and stay there with them until they settle down enough to help them work through their anger or negative feelings. It also involves holding the child physically (after they have stopped thrashing around, of course) and emotionally while talking with them to help them identify and label their feeling. Talking about what just happened that caused the discomfort.  As this process is repeated, over time, children learn to regulate themselves with less and less help.

How to know when your child is moving from brain stem (where they cannot be reasoned with) to cortex (where they are able to listen and reason):

What are some ways to help a child move from brainstem to the reasoning part of their brain?

  • Focus on breathing. You might say, “let’s take a deep breath” then show them how- Breathe in slowly, close your eyes and hold it for a second then let it out slowly. I use to think that taking a deep breath, or counting to three before answering were silly ideas. But now I believe they are physical actions that help us begin to re-set our emotional state.
  • Be present. Physically being with a child creates a sense of safety for them.
  • Don’t try to start a conversation. Just give simple commands, if necessary.

What are some indicators that a child is moving from the brainstem to the reasoning part of the brain?

  • In brainstem kids are usually nonverbal, and are kicking screaming and yelling (when they have moved out of the brain stem mode they will begin to be able to listen and interact with you reasonably).
  • They start sounding needy and whiney; that means they are ready to start listening.
  • They start using language such as “I want my toy”. When they begin to use their words, they are in a position to have a conversation

I found a few articles I liked about Tantrums. So I think I’ll turn this part into a parents digest (a periodical consisting of condensed versions of pieces of writing or news published elsewhere).,0                           Why Toddlers Throw Temper Tantrums                                   The Science of Tantrums                            How to Stop Tantrums Before They Start

Your traditions

tra·di·tion noun \trə-ˈdi-shən\ : a way of thinking, behaving, or doing something that has been used by the people in a particular group, family, society, etc., for a long time

The holidays are knocking at our door!  We have been thinking a lot about holiday traditions.  Every family has different, fun traditions and we want to hear about what you do!  We will be putting together a blog post all about holiday traditions soon.

What do we want from you?  Let us know what you do around this time of the year that makes the holidays special.  If you’re up for it ask your children and let us know what they say (kids always have a different perspective).  It can be anything from a family activity to a favorite recipe.

We have some delightful traditions that we have and will be sharing as well.  Here’s a little sneak peak:


Michelle Johansen put it well when she said; “The holiday season is a time to build lifelong memories with your family.  Traditions also help you bond and reconnect with loved ones, friends, and neighbors.”

So, please take a quick moment and write to us a favorite holiday tradition you have—you can leave a comment here, click over to the “contact us” tab, or shoot us an email @  Then tune in shortly to read our collection of  holiday traditions that you might want to start in your home!

Cultivating a positive classroom environment

I was talking to a reader last night.  She was wondering how to know when we posted something new.  Our goal is to post each week.  We will be shooting for the middle of the week (Wednesday/Thursday-ish) You can also follow us on Facebook (Askaparentorteacher) or Bloglovin’.  We’ll let you know about other social media venue options as we join them.

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Creating a Positive Classroom Environment


Now that that’s taken care of, on to some teacher writing!  I was chatting with a couple parents yesterday at a soccer game.  As we talked, the topics of teachers, classroom environments, and kids enjoying school came up.  We talked about how their children feel about school, how comfortable they feel in their classroom, their favorite teachers so far, etc.  That got me thinking about what makes a kid happy at school (and in turn, a teacher happy at school [seeing as that’s the end I have been on most recently]).  I believe that the single most important part to this “happiness at school” puzzle is the classroom environment.

Teachers, lets talk about cultivating a positive classroom environment!   **As my mom read this she commented that all these things apply to parenting and family life as well!  So parents, read on**

I cannot tell you how many times I heard professors and teachers say, “Classroom management is the most important thing!  You can’t teach if you are constantly having to deal with behavior issues.”  At the time I brushed it off a bit, thinking that it was important, but they were exaggerating a little bit.  I’ve come to learn that they were spot on! Imagine that! Here are some things I have learned in this area:

  • Developing a sense of community is so important!  When kids feel like they belong and are a part of a team, wonderful things happen: they want to do a good job for themselves and their teammates, they are quick to help and encourage others, they are more kind, they feel valuable and needed, and they are happy.  In my class we frequently talk about being good teammates.  I call my class “Team 24” (because that’s our room number).  Anytime I talk to them I address them as “team” or “team 24” They hear it so frequently that is almost becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  At the beginning of the year we do a lot of community building activities.  We also revisit these types of activities when I feel we need a little strengthening.
  • Students need to know that you care about them.  Learn about what they enjoy and bring it up occasionally.  If you know they love Legos ask them what they have built lately.  If they have a dog ask how the dog is doing.  If they are passionate about fashion comment on their wardrobe.  If you don’t know about a kid’s life, ask!  If they know you care they will be quicker to care about you and listen to you.
  • Be positive!  When kids walk into my classroom they each get a high five (or thumbs up, or peace sign, or knuckle bump, or the like) and a “Good morning!”  They return the gesture and wish me a good morning as well.  Right off the bat they know that I am glad that they are there.  I recently attended a meeting where they spoke about being positive with kids.  It was said that the positive/negative ratio should be 8:1.  That means for every negative thing you say, you should say 8 encouraging/positive things.  In a marriage class it was said that the same is true in marriages with your spouse, except the ratio they gave was 5:1.  Human nature!  People like positive experiences!
  • Be consistent.  Kids feel safe and happy when they know what to expect.  Establish expectations and consequences and then stick to it!  (This could be a post all in itself.)  Kids don’t like negative consequences, but as they come to see that you are consistent and they have the power to choose they will adjust their behavior.  Last year when kids didn’t do their homework they had to stay in for morning recess and do it then.  It was rough at the beginning of the year, but by the middle of the year the kids knew what was expected and took responsibility.  If fact I would have kids walk into class and say things like “I need to stay in from recess today because I chose not to do my homework” or “I need to do my homework at recess“.  My kids also know that we work hard before we play.  A few days before the end of the year party a student raised his hand and said “Why don’t we work really hard in the morning, then have our party in the afternoon.”  I had been so consistent in teaching that, that it was natural to them.
  • Have fun and let them get to know you.  When I was student teaching I felt like I had to be so professional that I never talked about myself.  My sweet mentor teacher encouraged me to let the kids see who I was and talk about myself.  I learned that my students love to know about my husband, my pets, my fear and such.  Have fun and laugh with them.  When you have fun together it strengthens that classroom community.

As you create a safe, fun, consistent, comfortable place for students, great things will happen.  It is really hard work in the beginning, but pays off in the end!