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Matter of life and death

Updated: 2020-08-10 07:40:50


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In February, Wu Qi, associate editor-in-chief of Sanlian Life Week, posted a handwritten mind map on Sina Weibo, sharing with her young daughter how she deals with misfortune.

She told her daughter how to face a problem and how to manage emotions in different steps.

Wu returned to her hometown Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, to celebrate Chinese New Year on Jan 17. Four days later, she moved to a hotel next to Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital together with two colleagues, from where they reported on the fight against the novel coronavirus for the next three months.

Her mind map outlined to her daughter how Wu faced the psychological challenges she encountered and how she managed the accompanying emotions.

According to Huang Zheng, associate professor at the Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, for parents who communicate with their children well in daily life, the extra hours and days spent with their kids due to the suspending of economic activities and the closing of schools have strengthened their relationships.

"But for those who already have friction with their children, or teenagers who are in their rebellious phase, the relationship might be more intense," Huang says.

Huang says Wu's mind map is a useful way to communicate with children how to understand and manage emotions and similar to the social and emotional learning course taught in schools and kindergartens.

"It's necessary to teach children how to manage their emotions, which can also be done through reading related picture books or stories," she says.

But, she says, the frequency should not be too much, lest it overwhelms children.

Huang says children may get curious and scared when they hear about the virus and that COVID-19 kills people, but says: "Parents should not avoid these questions about life and death, as learning about death is compulsory for everyone."

According to Huang, children usually become aware of death at the age of 4 or 5, "much earlier than parents think".

"If they have pets that die or relatives pass away, they may realize the existence of death more directly, and furthermore, they might worry death could happen to them," Huang says.

Huang says if a child asks about death due to the pandemic, it's a good time to discuss the topic with them because it shows the child's interest, otherwise there is no need to bring up the topic.

"Life education is combined with experience, when they ask, it means they are emotionally prepared, whether curious or fearful, the emotion will make sure the knowledge they learn is not just cold concepts but an experience connected with emotions," Huang explains.

For children of different age groups, Huang thinks parents should use slightly different ways to talk to them about death.

"For preschool children, a psychological barrier needs to be built between them and death," Huang says. "They need to feel safe."

Children's fear of death won't be eased in one go and the key to reassuring children is for parents to answer their kids' questions with a calm attitude each time.

"If the parents are impatient or reject the questions, the attitude will transfer the parents' fear more directly than words."

For school-age children, Huang recommends parents have a sincere discussion with them, and search for answers or information together with them in books or on the internet.

For teenagers, some may be overly defensive against death, denying the possibility of any personal danger, although they are told certain behavior such as smoking or drinking may harm them.

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