One of the saddest stories this week has to be the inquest into the death of a British eight year old boy, Joshua Aldred, who hung himself, with his tie in his bedroom last June, because he lost his mother and grandfather from cancer a few months apart. It was tragic in the extreme. What could make a child of such tender years feel so desperate as to take his own life?
It is not fair to comment on his particular circumstances because one does not know the family's background details, but there are usually two main reasons why children reach that level of despair when there has been a crisis in the family.
The first is a feeling of being responsible in some way for what happened, especially if they had been reprimanded in any way near the time of the event. Children are very sensitive about love, how much they receive from those they care about and how valued they are. If anything goes wrong, in an irrational way, and mainly because it is beyond their capacity to help or change, the first person they blame is themself. Many of them are likely to feel, and believe, that, were it not for their presence, their action or something they said, things might have been better or never happened. Sadly they brood on this self-blame for a while until the situation is remedied or their circumstances prove otherwise. Some children never lose that self-blame at all and carry it throughout their life, especially if something happened which was ongoing, or which they believe they were openly or covertly being blamed for.
The second is sheer neglect after a loss. Often some parents are so disconsolate with the loss of a partner that they tend to forget their children, being temporarily blind to the fact that the child has suffered a great loss too and needs to be comforted even more, to be loved and to be valued, to be reassured, to talk about their feelings and to be helped over that crisis. They are sometimes left to cope on their own while well-meaning others sympathise around them. If they cannot really understand the loss, and/or they were very close to that parent, they would be going through great trauma. Sometimes frequent hugs and just telling that child how valued they are and what a help they have been, making them feel useful and supportive, and encouraging them to talk about the loved one can be tremendous to help them cope with their grief.
Unfortunately, experience has shown that it is at those very times when the surviving parents are incapable of showing that value to their child because they need that love and reassurance too. Not only that, a few parents also subconsciously blame their children for their loss, which is shown in their actions. The kids become sensitive to the negative vibes and retreat into themselves. Often parents don't even realise they are doing it, but the need for someone to blame at a time of crisis means that someone close to us will always be in the firing line for a little while, or forever!
In our technological age, children are being increasingly isolated from their pre-occupied parents for a variety of reasons. At times of death and emotional loss they really need supporting more than ever. It is natural to miss a parent when they are gone and feel very low. But that alone does not push children over the edge. What tends to be the final straw in emotional pain is when a vacuum develops around the child which is not being filled by anyone else. It has the potential to be pretty lethal in its consequences for that child who might gradually feel unwanted and abandoned and simply cannot cope.
Elaine Sihera (Ms CYPRAH)
Emotional Health Adviser
"Respect and love begin with the self. If we have none, how can we give away any?"