My first brush with loss was when I was 16 and in the 10th grade in school. When you are young, life is like a playground where you chance upon people whom you know you will never see or talk to again. You also meet those rare people whom you at first sight know that they are meant to be in your life forever. My first ever serious relationship was with one such person who did not know that forever was not in his cards. Neither did I. 11 months into our relationship, God took him from us and that was a defining moment for me. The grief started to speak, and I remember wondering if I could have prepared myself better all those years by equipping myself with all the emotions death gives rise to. But how can you possibly prepare yourself for something you didn't know would happen? I remember asking myself that often in the days following the passing of a person who had been such an integral part of my life. The concept of death and loss seemed completely new to me and at 16, I was still an impressionable teenager who was still learning the ways of the world. After experiencing something like this, I was left with a soul-crushing impression that attachment was to be feared and not embraced. Growing up my parents encouraged me to be independent and taught me everything I needed to survive in the cut-throat world, but I don't remember conversations on dealing with loss taking place. Now 20 years, subsequent relationships, a wonderful husband and 2 children later, the views of attachment have finally been reversed. I have realised that talking to our children when they are young about death is crucial. I would never wish for them to fear getting into a relationship and forming attachments like I did for a long time.
When a person close to you loses a loved one, you mourn their loss with them. At a time like that you almost feel invincible and thank god for everyone and everything in your life. Deep down you pray that it never happens to you or anyone you love. As parents, our number one goal is to protect our children from any heart ache or challenges that they may face. When our parents were busy raising us, it would never have occurred to them to talk to bring up such a topic. Parenting seemed to be more straightforward and simple back then. Modern parenting however is geared towards awareness and raising our kids with every quality possible to survive real life. Life is designed in such a way that death and loss is a part of each person's journey. The most we can do is prepare our children from the time they are young by having age-appropriate conversations. It is human to avoid uncomfortable topics with our them and postpone talking to them with an easy justification that "they are anyway too young to understand." Children form their own impressions and judgements if we do not explain it to them ourselves. They have their peers to turn to. Death and loss is not a topic that we can leave open to interpretation with them so addressing this with them as early on as possible is key.
Last year, a homework assignment for my now 4.5 -year-old's class was to create a family tree. He had to stick pictures of his immediate family and talk about them. My husband lost his father when he was 18-years-old, so this particular assignment led to numerous questions from my son about his paternal grandfather, whom he had never met. He wanted to know where he had gone and why. Why was it that some people were still left here on earth while God took others earlier? We explained that being very sad and even for a long time is not bad; it is in fact normal when you lose someone you love. He started to worry that his parents would go to God soon as well, and this is where a great deal or reassurance is required. We had to reinforce again and again that he would always be taken care of and someone would always be there to love him. The conversation was delicate of course but only the truth was told. A few weekends ago, we watched The Lion King together for the first time. I was forced to turn it off half hour into the movie when Simba's father died. My son was upset that he had died and wanted him to come back. That was the moment for me to explain that death is permanent, a concept which children will take years to understand, but it is never too late to start.
There are so many easy ways to squash a conversation with children about death if questions arise. I have heard others say that a loved one has gone to sleep or gone out of town and they don't know when they will be back. While evading questions may seem like the logical thing to do, what expectations are we setting? Simply speaking, what happens when that person does not come back? We tend to forget that we are our children’s first teacher and our words matter. The truth matters. Talk to them about what they will feel and how they can deal with those emotions. Tell them that even though a person many not be physically present, they are still there in all the things around them.
The long - term benefits of having the death and loss conversation with our children when they are young are tremendous. It is okay to have doubts of our own and to say we don't know to questions they ask. Honesty is always appreciated by children and the more upfront we are about what we know and don't know, the better. This is a topic which cannot be spoken about once and tossed aside, rather it can be returned to again. It is important to remember that if we don't explain it to them, they will imagine and create a story of their own. What they imagine can set the foundation for what they believe and expect to experience later in their own lives. So, if you haven't already spent a few minutes talking about death with your child, do so soon. There is a difference between protecting and sheltering and sheltering them from what they will inevitably experience will only hinder them. Protect them by preparing them.
Appreciation is a dying art form. I truly believe this. Growing up, we have a tremendous number of influences in our lives – parents, grandparents, siblings, aunt, uncles, cousins, friends, nannies and so on. The list of people who spark some sort of light in our lives and leave a mark is sometimes quite winding. Once we embark upon adulthood, we look back at the lessons we learned and whom they were taught by. We realize that we don’t really appreciate or express our gratitude enough to those people. We then close our eyes and mutter a silent “thank you” to those wise people who we 20 years later realize made an impact on us. Aside from my parents and siblings, some of the people who played a very significant role in shaping my personality and who I am today, are my teachers.
There are so many ‘aha’ moments that creep up on you once you become a mother yourself. I have certainly had many of those recently. Witnessing my 4-year-old son grow at rapid speed and with an even more rapidly developing dynamic personality, a large part of which I owe to his teachers, makes me eternally grateful to them. Till I became a mother and my son started school, I had always underestimated the intensity of influence of a teacher in a child’s life. It took me a long time to understand that teachers were not put on earth to simply walk into a classroom, write on the board, teach and leave. Especially not the ones I had interacted with at my son’s school and who he has been, and still is, lucky enough to have. They are more than just ‘TEACH’ers. The definition of a teacher itself has evolved over the years and according to me, they are our children’s guardians when we are not around. They assume the role of protector during the large chunks of time children spend at school.
There is a reason parents spend sleepless nights trying to select a school for their children. Of course, they want a good education. After all, which parent doesn’t want that? But the meaning of ‘education’ is not as cut and dry as it used to be several decades ago. Education does not only entail ensuring that our children know all the letters in the Alphabet or that they know all the different colors in the Rainbow. It does not mean that if your child knows how to read by the age of 4, he/she is set for life. Parents search for, visit, review, re-visit, and take months to narrow down schools for their children based on multiple factors including the teaching style. By this, I don’t mean the way they teach Math and English, but the way the teachers interact, engage and bond with students. Teachers now have the gigantic responsibility of churning out individuals with a clear view of the world, the strength and personality to engage in it and the ability to survive in it. This starts from the time children are in pre-school which is when a teacher’s job is the hardest.
One of the biggest assets that any school can have are teachers who are able to form attachments on many levels with young children. The most crucial element for any young child to thrive in school is a nurturing environment filled with happiness and love from those around them. The ability to listen and comfort is one of the most admirable qualities in teachers and requires immense patience, especially with the young ones. Parents are no longer the only primary influencers and sole teachers so children at a very young age need to be slowly immersed into a school environment where the teachers become their pseudo-mothers. When my son bounces out of school with a big smile on his face and stories to tell, I know that his teachers among others, have had a big part to play in it. When he comes strolling out at the end of a school day, just to go running back in a second later to say bye for the tenth time to his teachers, I know I can sleep well at night. The warmth and affection that children experience can turn their day around and this is what encourages them to look forward to school the next day. Learning is not feared but welcomed.
Good teachers help our children become good human beings. It is as simple as that. What our children learn from their teachers will stay with them in some form for the rest of their lives. They motivate and inspire. They provide strength and comfort. They nurture the wonder, curiosity and creativity. They love and protect. They are role models for our children, the same way we are. Teachers are vital to the success of everything our children do, and I have learned to value every one of them who is present in our children’s lives. Teachers hold hands, open minds and touch hearts. So, learn to appreciate them every step of the way and take every chance you get to say thank you. The same way our children need encouragement and appreciation to develop into the best people, so do teachers.
“Teachers change the world one child at a time”
Hi! I'm Antara and I was once a 'let's get the party started, consume a bottle of Rose Champagne on the weekend' kind of girl. Now at 33 and a mom of a teddy bear looking 2 year old boy (with another little bundle on the way), I am still that 'let's get the party started, consume a bottle of Rose Champagne on the weekend kind of girl.'