Aunt.Jan asks:

How to help children deal with the death of their mother?

My nephews and niece mother died December 6, due to a tragic accident. She was shot by her 13 year old son. How can I tell if they are dealing with this tragedy in a healthy way? He continues to play violent video games with graphic shooting and killing people? Is this normal behavior?
In Topics: Children and video games, Children and stress, Communicating with my child (The tough talks)
> 60 days ago



Dec 22, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

Hello.  First and foremost I want to express my deepest sympathies for this tragedy that has happened to your family.

I know that you are very concerned about the mental health of your niece and nephew.  I would like to take this one step further and say that I would be concerned about ALL those involved closely with this family, including you.

Therefore, when tragedy strikes a family (whether expected, such as after a long illness or suddenly, as in your case), it would be my opinion that meeting with a grief counselor would be warranted.  Young children, tweens and teens tend to process grief differently than adults.  Thus, counseling may need to be conducted differently for the parties involved.

How to get a counselor?  I would start by asking the school counselors or school psychologist to recommend specialists in this field.  Often it may be a social worker, counselor, psychologist, or religious leader that proves to be the best fit.  Sometimes churches, synagogues, and funeral homes have names of  grief counselors that can provide each of you assistance according to your needs.  Of course, many religious leaders are trained to help with after a tragedy to assist with some degree of understanding and guidance during the grief process.  Hospitals often have lists of provider names, as well.  

As for the nephews continuation of video games with violent themes- I will leave that question up to the professionals you may seek.  However, there is nothing about your current situation that is "normal" as tragic events have sent you in to a state much different than before.

My thoughts and sympathy are with your family and you at this time.

Louise Masin Sattler, NCSP
Nationally Certified School Psychologist

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Additional Answers (2)

dgraab , Parent writes:
Hello Jan,

I'm so sorry to hear of your family's very tragic loss. Thank you for turning to JustAsk for some insights on your niece and nephews grieving process and information to help them. I have forwarded your question along to several JustAsk Experts (child psychologists, social workers, pediatricians) -- I hope one will be able to answer as soon as possible.

In the meantime, here are some informational resources on that you may find helpful...

Death of a Parent

Child Grief and Bereavement

Parenting in the Digital World (includes resources to understand and address the video game issue you referenced)

Video Games special edition (similar to above but more narrowly focused)

Please also encourage the children's father or guardian to consult their pediatrician (and/or family counselor) about the grief and video game concerns (and any other issues related to their health and well-being during this very difficult time and beyond).

Your family will remain in my thoughts.
> 60 days ago

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TheMediatri... , Parent, Child Professional writes:
Dear Aunt Jan,

First, let me extend my deepest sympathies for your tragic loss. Any death in the family can be extremely difficult to deal with, and a situation such as this carries especially heavy challenges. For your nephew, the feelings that accompany this tragedy are likely to be even more complex and upsetting. I strongly recommend that both he and your niece start therapy, if they havenât already. They will need it simply to manage their emotional responses to losing their mother, not to mention processing through the circumstances surrounding that loss.

Your question about whether itâs normal for your nephew to be playing violent video games at this point is a good one. He may be trying to regain some semblance of control over the world by using virtual guns in a controlled, virtual environment. Shooting and killing video game characters may be his way of trying to make sense of the real-life, accidental situation.

Video games, which present environments and conditions to which the player must respond in certain ways to do well, function as âbehavioral scriptsâ which the player practices over and over. Interactive electronic media which immerse participants in a âvirtual realityâ are among the most effective teaching technologies we have. What children do, they will learn. Content matters. Therefore, as a pediatrician, I steer parents and kids toward video games that are sports-, logic-, or strategy-based, instead of those that center on violence   The challenge with the games is what they are teaching.  I recommend to parents that when they buy a game, they carefully choose it for the content their child will learn from it and then spend time with their child discussing that content.  

In your case, playing violent video games may not be the healthiest way for him to process through this, especially without the guidance of an experienced therapist to help him sort through both his virtual and real experiences. A therapist, in addition to helping your nephew work through his emotions, might be able to figure out his motivation for playing these violent video games and work to find healthier ways of achieving the same goals.

My deepest sympathies,
Dr. Michael Rich, The Mediatrician®

This question was also answered on Ask the Mediatrician:
> 60 days ago

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