Building Bridges


Dealing with Loss
PART II (continued)

Helping children live in the present and memorialize what they have lost

22. Know that children need and want to live their own lives.
If your children have participated in sports and active play all along, they are likely to benefit from continuing to do so now. In fact, vigorous physical activity may be even more valuable for them now than in the past, because of its effectiveness in reducing anxiety, lessening physical tension, and providing the opportunity for having fun.
    Similarly, other activities that have been important in your family's life are probably just as important for your children now. Such activities as drawing and painting, sculpture, crafts, creative writing, dance, and vocal or instrumental music can provide welcome opportunities for self-expression. For many children, pet care, gardening, computer games, and even household chores may provide access to comforting and familiar routines. Participation in youth organizations, school clubs, religious groups, and similar activities for young people can help your children continue to interact appropriately with friends and age-mates.

23. Pay particular attention to the children's school life.
Because school is such an important part of your children's lives, talk with their teachers and other school professionals. Together, you and they can decide how they might best be helpful and supportive. 
    For many children who are in the process of adjusting to the reality of divorce, it is appropriate to plan for and accept a somewhat lower level of academic performance. For others, this may be a suitable time to offer additional support and to expect an increased commitment to school life. For some, a change in school is unavoidable.
    All of these school-related matters deserve discussion with your children and with school personnel. Involvement by other professionals may be appropriate as well, especially if there is a striking deterioration in schoolwork, or if your children become fearful of attending school. 

24. Create ways for you and your children to memorialize what you have lost.
Rituals serve to help people express authentic feelings in a formal way, usually in the presence of others.
    For example, a formal saying "goodbye" to the family as it existed previously provides an opportunity for the children to express their understanding of what has been lost, to express their feelings in the present, and to articulate their wishes for the future. It can help all of the family members move toward freeing themselves from unrecognized inclinations to punish (or please) one another mindlessly, and become better able to go on to write the next chapter of their lives as a family unit, and as individuals.
    Such permanent physical constructions as photo albums, bulletin boards, and memory boxes can play a useful role, too, in grief work. Making memories concrete, and thus locating them in time and place, can help keep them in perspective as the children grow, and can help all the people involved protect themselves from the inevitable temptations to demonize (or sanctify) one another.
    Finally, the calendar's special days deserve special attention: traditional holidays, individual birthdays, family anniversaries. By involving the children in making plans and carrying them out, you can help them live fully in the present as they honor the past, welcome the future, and experience, repeatedly, your love for them.

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