Dear Annie: I am in middle school, and a girl on my softball team was the victim of a terrible incident. Her dad was killed in a car crash caused by a drunk driver. She has been heartbroken ever since.
I constantly wonder if I can do anything to help her. I hate it when people are sad. Should I do anything besides comfort her with words? Should I give her some kind of gift? Everyone else seems to be doing just that. Or should I just not do anything?
-- Bewildered Eighth Grader
Dear Bewildered: You are a kind and sympathetic soul. Please don’t buy her a gift. It would seem like some kind of consolation prize and would not ease her pain. It’s important not to minimize her grief by trying to prevent her from being unhappy. She is going to be sad for a long time, and this is normal. Her family also is likely going through many adjustments.
Just let her know that you are sorry about her father, and if she wants to talk about anything, you will listen. If she confides in you, it’s OK to cry with her. She may behave differently for a while — she could be sad or angry, or want to be alone or surround herself with friends. Try to treat her as normally as possible. You don’t want her to feel as if people are overly focused on her grief. In time, she will learn to cope.
Dear Annie: I am a clinical psychologist and past president of the Connecticut Psychological Association. I believe you missed the call in regard to the letter from “Big Sis,” who is worried about her underweight 7-year-old niece, “Andrea.” The girl’s mother claims Andrea is obese and restricts her food. The girl is sick all the time and so fearful of her mother that she is afraid to eat. This could have serious and dangerous implications for Andrea. What is being described here appears to be Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
This parent is likely causing Andrea to display the symptoms of an eating disorder in order to gain for herself attention, sympathy and a sense of control and importance. Andrea needs the immediate help of a physician and a licensed mental health professional. Her mother is in serious need of psychotherapy. Please use your column to educate your readers about this potentially fatal syndrome.
-- Michael Schwarzchild, Ph.D., Danbury, Conn.
Dear Dr. Schwarzchild: Thank you for your take on this. MSP involves a parent or caregiver who deliberately exaggerates, lies about or actually creates physical or psychological problems in a child in order to gain attention. It is a form of child abuse, as well as a mental health disorder, although highly controversial.
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