|Investing in Our Future: Psychological support for children affected by HIV/AIDS. A case study in Zimbabwe and The United Republic of Tanzania (UNAIDS, 2001, 77 p.)|
|Helping parents talk to their children about death and dying|
Traditionally, children are not encouraged to talk about themselves and how they feel; therefore when they are finally given the opportunity they often have trouble expressing emotions. However, just because they do not verbalize their emotions, does not mean they are not affected.
It is a common belief that because children are resilient, they are not in need of counselling about death. This can be demonstrated by the idea of comforting the widow at the funeral and sending the children out to play. Children are encouraged to keep their emotions inside and may hear such warnings as, If you cry, you will end up like your mother!
On Saturday the 19th of February 2000, my father died. We had to go home and when they told me I cried and lost my appetite and I did not want to talk to anyone. When the people from our church came to make inkonzo, I wasnt concentrating. I always thought of my father and every time I think of him, I cry. On the burial day, my mother said I could not go, and I cried until they said they would let me go. Then they said, if I cry during the body viewing, then I would not be able to go, so I did not cry.
Young girls testimony, Masiye
In the Shona culture in Zimbabwe, children do not actively participate in rituals surrounding death, and they are usually kept away from the funeral and the grave, although changes have been noted in this custom. Traditionally, families who have moved away from the rural areas return to the village to bury a family member. Usually when this happens, the remaining children are left behind in town.
Adults also avoid talking about death to children because it is too painful for the adults. The childs grief can evoke memories and strong feelings in the adults that they are not ready to deal with. Adults argue that by avoiding discussing death they are actually protecting the child. Many parents hope to minimize the impact of the loss by avoiding talking about it, a conspiracy of silence.
Children are fantastic observers, they miss nothing, however, they are poor interpreters of what they see and hear. They will often internalize the situation and feel a sense of personal responsibility for what they see around them.
Sue Parry, FOST
This conspiracy of silence does help parents control their emotions, but even though nothing is verbalized, the parent is still communicating with the child about sickness or death, only it is something negative.
According to Chipo Mbanje, head of Positive Womens Network in Harare, Zimbabwe, children are like a sponge; they absorb everything (emotions, tensions and actions) but adults do not realize there is so much water inside. Childrens roles and lifestyles change dramatically when AIDS enters the household. The children often become the carers for a sick parent or they have to take on additional duties in the household, such as working to replace the income of the sick breadwinner or to supplement the money needed for treatment.
Children can see these stressors and sense that there is something seriously wrong, but they may not understand what it is or its implications. This can make them feel anxious, guilty, depressed and misunderstood. Often they do not express these feelings because they do not want to upset the situation further or they may be afraid of being overwhelmed by their feelings and try to keep them under control by keeping them inside.
Sometimes they get the feeling that whatever the secret is, it is too horrible to be talked about. By discussing the situation, childrens fears are alleviated and they will be able to cope better with the stress.