Dementia can be a difficult thing to explain to our kids, but it is important to help them understand the facts and cope with their emotions.
A loved one being diagnosed with dementia can be a tough pill to swallow, and the little ones are not exempt. Your first instinct might be to protect the kids from a difficult situation by brushing off your loved one’s forgetfulness as a normal part of aging or to avoid talking about the situation. But the fact is that children are often perceptive to difficult atmospheres and negative emotions and are likely to be noticing signs of a problem.
Helping the little ones to understand more about dementia is crucial to reassuring children in a situation where their relatives or loved ones display drastic changes in behaviour – avoid a scenario where they blame themselves by letting them know that these changes are a part of dementia and that it is not their fault.
Breaking Down Dementia
Talking about things in an age-appropriate way is important, but always be honest and don’t avoid answering tough questions. For starters, explain what dementia is and prepare them for the changes in behaviour that your loved one will be likely to display. Reassure your child that these changes are a result of dementia.
You can also do research together to learn more about dementia. There are resources online and in books that will help explain dementia to children in kid-friendly ways. Don’t let it end there either! Let them know that you are there to answer any questions they have. The key is allowing them to feel that they can come to you with their queries and feelings, instead of keeping it to themselves.
Dealing With Feelings
Besides helping children to understand dementia, it is also important to teach them how to deal with their feelings in healthy ways. It is normal for the child to feel sad if they are forgotten or frustrated that they have to repeat themselves, and you should create opportunities for your child to share their feelings and encourage them to find healthy ways to express these emotions. Make sure you validate their feelings and refrain from judging them so they know that they have a safe space where they can be truthful; the last thing you want is your child to start hiding their emotions.
While the thought might make you uncomfortable, being honest with your own feelings can really make a difference. By allowing the child to see how you are coping with a difficult situation, you are giving them a chance to learn how to manage their own painful emotions. When you’re open with your own feelings, children will be more inclined to share their own.
Although you might be spending a considerable amount of time with your loved one with dementia, it is important to also make sure that your children have opportunities to spend time away from the home doing things they enjoy, like swimming or music classes. Don’t let the little ones feel like their childhood is being taken away from them. You’ll also want to make time to spend with your children each week. This will help to relieve some of the stress and sadness they experience, which goes a long way in helping them cope with what they’re feeling.