Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why is my child so upset about the goldfish that died 8 months ago?

You know the moment.  You are talking to your child about some “wrong” action that she has performed. You are being loving yet firm, explaining that it was not the right choice.  You are even validating her feelings and emotions about why she committed the act.  Then out of left field comes “I miss Goldie.” 

Now Goldie was the “creatively” named goldfish she had for 3 months last fall.  He died months ago.  You had a little funeral and discussed how people, animals and plants don’t live forever.  Neither you nor she has mentioned the fish in over 6 months.  How could she still be sad about the silly fish? 

There are a few possibilities for why Goldie has made this reappearance.  The first is the possibility that she has not fully grieved for the pet.  Children’s grief process follows the same pattern as adults, though it may look different.  I know that I (as well as many adults) have suddenly thought of an animal friend that passed months or even years early and I suddenly find myself missing him all over again.  Who knows, there might have been something said in the conversation or something that she saw as she was looking around that reminded her of the sad event.  This is a definite possibility though less likely. 

It could be a distraction method your child has found useful in the past.  Bringing up an event that she is aware is a sad event might work because it is difficult to argue with.  Losing a pet is a sad.  During that initial grief period there were most likely extra gifts, treats, attention and patience.  Your child might simply be longing for those things again as she is faced with getting in “trouble.”

What is most likely happening is that your child is truly sad about what she has just done and the “lecture” she is now getting. In her mind she is trying to make sense of it all.  The human brain is an amazing thing. All of these memories linked together.  The emotion of “loosing” something she is now faced with because of her actions has reminded her of the “loss” of her pet.  Her brain is connecting dots so fast that she doesn’t even know it. 

Chances are the true reason for this sudden reappearance of Goldie is a mixture of two or all three of these possibilities.  Luckily the response should be the same. 

1.        Briefly let your child know that sometimes we are sad about losing a friend for a long time and validate the sadness that has been brought to the surface by saying that it is okay to be sad about Goldie. 
2.       Let her know you are more than happy to talk about it at a different time. 
3.       Then bring the conversation back to the issue at hand. 

Don’t accuse your child of trying to distract you but don’t let it be a very long tangent.  She will soon learn it is not an effective way to sidetrack you.  If she is still grieving, you have given her the opportunity to discuss it at a later time.  Be sure to actually do this.  Her mind is just trying to make sense of everything.  Validating the sadness for the pet quickly, then moving back to the issue at hand, will help her hold onto the memory that you are now trying to address with her.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I guess my thought added to this could be, is there some other death or trauma that could be on the child's mind and the fish is some sort of a foil or segway to discussing that.
My reason:
Many years ago I cared for three kids whose mom died, it was followed by a pet death a few months later. Now processing mom's death took time, and very often the 4 year old developed a pattern where he would ask something about the pet's death, we would discuss that because I soon realized he was going to follow it by asking a question on the same subject about mom's death.