Grief and Grieving : Childhood and Grief
Posted by Chapster on Jun-02-2005 (2286 reads)

Children are very impressionable and the grief experience is fraught with emotional trauma. When the two are mixed together, childhood sensitivity and deep sorrow experiences, it can set the stage for wounds that may be carried long into adulthood. On the other hand, it offers the opportunity to give childen lifelong tools to manage loss.

In a recent Community Focus session on KEOM, Barb spoke about this issue with Station Director Dr. James Griffin. Continue reading for insight on how we can help children cope with such occasions.

Children and the Grief Experience
Taped in the KEOM studios in Mesquite, Texas on May 18, 2005

Q: So, Barb, what are we talking about today?

A: Today, I thought we would spend a little time talking about children and grief. When it comes to grief, children face certain difficulties that adults do not. While children are very resilient, the experience of loss at an early age can affect them significantly.

Q: What are some of the difficulties they face as children deal with their losses?

A. Certainly, even the very young, such as infants and toddlers can be aware of some sense of loss with someone to whom they have experienced a deep connection, such as a parent. So, even though very young children may not be equipped to understand death, they may very well feel a loss at some level. Additionally, as children age they begin to try and understand their world and the way they relate to their world. They see things in a very cause and effect fashion. So, it's not unusual for children to feel like something they did earlier in the day lead to granddad's death later in the afternoon. That’s why its very important that children are able to get reassurance from someone they trust. Also, children are not really equipped to express their grief verbally, even if they can talk. They have difficulty expressing emotion and using words to describe the powerful feelings that they have. This is the reason that play therapy is such a powerful tool! It is because it uses the language of children to express feelings. And, while psychologists may have special expertise in play therapy, those who love children will find that just getting down on the floor, eye to eye with a child and playing on their level will provide reassurance to them and will give the opportunity to release some of those emotions.

Q: What happens when adults are grieving the loss too?

A: As when a young spouse dies?

Q: Right.

A: That situation has the power to either complicate things or to help the child. Of course, both the adult and the child will have grief patterns that will be very different. While the parent must honor his or her grief, and make time for coping with that grief, it cannot be at the expense of the child. As we mentioned earlier, the child will need much reassurance, the opportunity to express emotions safely, and should be given understanding as they work through their grief. Many children benefit from having a physical connection to something that their loved one possessed - a linking object. Another way of helping a child’s grief is through a children’s grief support group.

Q: How do we know when we need to consider professional help?

A: The best clue is behavior – how they socialize with others, including adults, how they do in task completion, such as school assignments and grades, and how they are sleeping/dreaming. Certainly, if you see behavior that indicates self-harm, it is time for an immediate consultation with a therapist.

Q: This is an interesting subject. Anything more, this time, before we go?

A: Yes. In many ways, for adults, and especially children, the greatest loss when a loved one dies is often a sense of faith/their belief that they will still be cared for . . . In the recent film Millions, a young boy, his brother and their dad, seek to come to terms with the death of the boys' mother. The boy, Damien, interviews saint after saint in his pursuit of trying to do good. His discussions with the saints mirrors the crisis of faith, the destruction of his world that he feels so deeply, and the hope that he can make things right. Of all fears that a child has, perhaps the deepest is that they will be abandoned. It is this fear, along with all of its attendant doubts about life and living, that the grieving child must find help with. With time, physical affection, reassurance, and loving, firm parenting, they can, and will, make it through.

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