Thursday, July 19, 2007

Children are likely to Grieve Over Any Deaths in the Latest Harry Potter Book

There have been hints that two of the major characters in Harry Potter, including possibly Harry himself, will be killed in the last of the Harry Potter books, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" due out on Saturday July 21, 2007.

Author J.K. Rowling is expected to kill off two characters in this last book as a way to indicate to readers that the Harry Potter series is finally over. There is a concern that young fans of Harry Potter and his friends may have difficulties coping with the death or deaths if their favorite characters are killed off.

Harry Potter Deathly HallowsIs it Death for Harry Potter?

Deaths of Public Figure can become Teachable Moments
When Steve Irwin was suddenly killed in September last year I was the Death, Dying and Bereavement Guide at I wrote about talking to a child about the death of the Crocodile Hunter, as being a teachable moment* for parents to share with their children.

With J.K. Rowling's plans to kill off one or more of the Harry Potter characters another
teachable moment* may emerge--an opportunity for parents talk with their children about death. It is likely that many children will be saddened by the loss and truly grieve any of the death(s) in the Harry Potter book.

These teachable moments* can be an excellent opportunity for parent to explain the dying and death to a child. In the latest case, parents will probably need to address the death(s) of one of their "friends," the Harry Potter characters.

*A teachable moment is a moment of educational opportunity: a time at which a person, especially a child, is likely to be particularly disposed to learn something or particularly responsive to being taught or made aware of something.

Coping with the Death(s) of a Harry Potter Character(s)
For avid Harry Potter fans it may be very difficult for them to cope with the death of one or more of their characters. Even though parents may take the realistic view that “it’s just a book” the Harry Potter characters are very real to children, and they may be saddened and distressed. Parents, counselors, teachers, psychiatrists and children’s camp leaders are anticipating a lot of teary fans after reading the final book.

Children can experience different emotions in response to a death, even the death of a fictional character. Some will become sad, many will cry, other will become distressed. Other children may not appear to be distressed, rather will take the deaths in stride (or more likely may not want to talk about it). These are all normal reactions to a death.

Depending on the way the death(s) occur, many children may be confused disappointed or distraught. Parents should be sure that they know about how the deaths occurred, in order to answer questions. Read the book or check the fan sites for details.

How to Help Children Cope with a Death
According to child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. David Fassler:
The death of a well-known public figure can be hard to comprehend or accept. Understandably, some young children may feel sad or confused.

As parents, teachers and caring adults, we can best help by listening and responding in an honest, consistent and supportive manner.

When trying to help a child cope with death it is helpful to:
  • Know what is going on with the death (In the case of Harry Potter, read the book or synopsis).
  • Answer his or her questions about death in simple terms.
  • Not minimize the loss.
  • Listen to your child.
  • Be supportive if the child is emotional. (A normal response.)
  • Be supportive if the child is not emotional. (Also a normal response.)
  • Be available when the child is ready to talk.
  • Let your child have time to grieve, be upset and talk about what they are experiencing.
  • Give your child different ways to express the loss--verbal, written, creative, musical and physical.
Additional Resources to Help Children Cope with Death
Meltz BF.
What is a parent to do if Harry or Ron dies? July 18, 2007. The Boston Globe.
Dyer KA. Talking to a Child about the Death of Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin ~ A Teachable Moment. September 10, 2006.
Definition. Teachable Moment. Encarta® World English Dictionary [North American Edition] © 2007.

Photo Source: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The Leaky Cauldron.

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