Children grieve and process loss differently than adults. This a critically important concept for all grief counselors to grasp in their understanding of helping children deal with grief. Children depending on their age as well as mental and emotional maturity all process grief differently. Understanding this key concept can prevent numerous errors in child development when helping a child a through the process of grief.
In the past, emotional and mental barriers to development of children were innocently but ignorantly created by concerned caregivers seeking to shield children from loss. Children were denied final farewells at death scenes, or prevented from attending a funeral. Hiding death, even that of a family pet as simple as a fish, were all considered important steps in protecting a child’s innocence from death.
In reality, sparing children the realities of death, or diminishing the event of death caused more damage to the mental and emotional development of children. Children would then inherit improper coping mechanisms as adults when dealing with loss. They would also have grief complications with past losses. The inability to say good bye, find closure, or fully understand the nature of the loss crippled their abilities to deal with grief as adults.
In preventing these issues, adults, caregivers and grief counselors need to address loss to children. An explanation of the loss should correlate with the understanding and mental maturity of the child regarding the finality of death. Death and loss should be seen as opportunities for the child to learn about death, especially in regards to smaller losses.
In dealing with these losses, caregivers should express death clearly without any figurative language and also encourage children to express their feelings and thoughts. If a child wishes to express that is fine and if a child wishes to express less, that is fine. The importance is that children are able to express their feelings and know that life will continue.
It is critical to allow children to express themselves as they fit not only for their own understanding but also to dismiss any ill thoughts regarding the loss that may fester within the child. Children sometimes can blame themselves for the death of an individual or hold guilt that most adults would dismiss. It is hence important to discuss the death clearly but also to have a full understanding of the child’s understanding of the loss in relationship to him or her.
By responding uniquely to each child’s need during a loss based on the child’s understanding, one can eliminate any possible grief complications and also allow the child to fully express him or herself. This enables a better transition mentally, socially and emotionally.
To learn more how to speak to and understand grieving children, then please review AICHP’s Child and Adolescent Grief Counseling Program. The program is open to currently certified Grief Counselors and is offered as an advanced specialty program. Those who meet the qualifications can become certified in this advanced specialty field and learn to better help children cope with loss and grief.
Children grieve differently. Depending on their age, children have different mental ideals on death. As they grow certain ideas change due to experiencing others die, from a simple goldfish or rabbit to a grandparent. Children struggle with ideas such as universality, irreversibility, non functionality, and causality. Eventually, some understand everything dies, that once someone or something has died it does not return, that bodily functions such as breathing end at death, and that only certain things cause death, not unrelated issues.
Children hence need to be guided through a death event differently pending on their age and maturity in regards to their understanding of basic death concepts.
The article, “Helping children with grief” from WGU Ohio, presents an indepth look at death and how to present death to a children. The article states,
“Particularly when it comes to coping with death, children have a unique way of processing and dealing with their grief. Oftentimes the first step to helping children grieve is ensuring that they understand the concept of death, and that there aren’t lingering misconceptions”
Shootings and other traumatic incidents are becoming more common in society. One was once something that only happened in other parts of the world are now happening in America. Shootings at schools or public places create an intense trauma for children. How children are able to cope after a shooting will be pivotal for the rest of their lives. It is crucial to understand the nature of trauma after a public shooting and how to talk to children.
Whether the children or involved or witness it on television or the media, it is crucial as parents, educators and counselors to be able to better help children understand what occurred and how it affects them. It is critical after such an event to ensure the children they are safe. It is important to explain what happened and to be open to any questions. It is as best especially with younger children to try to ensure a continuance of routine but still be open to questions and reassurances of safety.
Many children after such severe traumatic events may exhibit a variety of issues. Some may exhibit irregular sleep patterns and nightmares. Others may exhibit more severe anxiety, or outbursts of emotion ranging from anger to sadness. Others may become more introverted. New fears may also emerge. It is critical for parents and educators to monitor children after a traumatic event to see if any of these issues arise.
The article, “Guide to Coping After Mass Trauma: School Grief Counseling Techniques” from Bradley University looks closer at the symptoms of post trauma as well as immediate aftermath response. The article states,
“The triggering event for trauma may be as widely shared as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, or as personal as witnessing or surviving a major traffic accident. Regardless of the source of the trauma, children and adolescents need support and understanding as they work through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.”
Grief counseling for children is essential for children who face trauma. Some children may require more indepth counseling from Licensed Professional Counselors as well. Trauma scars the mind but with proper guidance and coping methods, children can be guided through the process and find strength and security. Not acknowledging trauma is the worst thing anyone can do. Please also review our Child and Adolescent Grief Counseling Program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.
Teen depression and mental disorders are on the rise. Parents need to be vigilant in determining if their teen is displaying signs of depression. This can be difficult distinguishing between regular teen behavior and true pathological symptoms. If something usually seems out of the normal schedule resulting in prolonged irritability, fatigue and rogue statements, then it may be time to investigate further and see if your teen is suffering from depression.
The article, “Keep your teen moving to reduce risk of depression, study says” by Sandee LaMotte looks at the importance of keeping your teen active. She states,
“According to the World Health Organization, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents around the world, accounting for “16% of the global burden of disease and injury in people aged 10 to 19 years.””
Please also review our Grief Counseling program in Child Adolescent Grief Counseling and see if it meets your professional and academic needs. The program is for professionals who are already certified in Grief Counseling but looking to specialize in children and teen grief behavior.
The ultimate loss for a child is the loss of a parent. Thousands of children lose their parents and are in dire need of care and counseling. Some children lose one parent, while others lose both and face even greater alterations in their life. Hence in addition to the initial tragic loss and shock, there are waves of other secondary losses that affect the child. They continue to burn into the heart of the child and without care, can become emotional scars that never heal.
One must look at this type of loss from numerous angles. While the loss itself is terrible, there are numerous subjective elements to consider. Age is one of these things. The age of the child and the child’s comprehension of the loss play a key role. The younger the child is, the least traumatic the loss will be, while the older the child, the more the loss will affect them. Memories will be more numerous and the sting of the loss will take my adjustment. Depending on the child’s reasoning capabilities, some younger children with memories may even blame themselves with imaginary thinking that they may have caused their parent or parents’ death. This is why it is so key to discuss the loss in relation to the child’s age and their mental capability.
In this particular case, we will imagine a little girl, named Kelly, who lost her mother at age 9. This will allow us to focus more on a case study and what to expect. At the age of 9, Kelly will have definitive memories and also a traumatic break from her mother. It is important to allow her to grieve this initial loss. It is very important to understand her thinking regarding the loss. At age 9, she understands the finality of death. One does not need to speak in analogy, but it is important to be very cautious in explaining the spirituality of death. Some children will not understand why God or heaven took their mother. Hence, it is very important to use very concrete language that explains the loss. One can illustrate that mother is in heaven, but to articulate that God wanted mommy in heaven, or other such language should be avoided.
It is also important to illustrate to Kelly that the loss of her mother is not her fault. Some children will associate wishful or imaginary thinking as having true power. For instance, if a child was angry at a parent and exclaimed or thought something horrible happening to a parent, they will then associate their thought with the actual event even though they do not tie together. It is important to dispel such imaginary thinking to avoid future guilt complexes in the child.
In regards to Kelly, it is also crucial to ensure her wishes to participate in funeral rites are respected. Many individuals look to shield a child from the loss of a parent. They prevent the child from attending the funeral. It is crucial for the child to participate to her comfort level in the funeral rites. The finality is critical and the support received is equally critical. Kelly will need to be able to say goodbye to her mother and also share in the social grief with family. She needs to see that tears are important and that grieving is important.
Following this initial loss, she will grieve. She will continue to grieve. She will need her father and family to comfort her. There will be things no-one can ever replace that mommy did. As time proceeds, she should be encouraged to remember her mother and remember her life. She can frame special pictures or create small shrines to her mother. These are all important steps in adjusting to the loss over time. These steps do not come quick though and require time.
The loss will never truly ever leave. There will be reactions of anger and frustration towards others. There will be days worst than others. Birthdays and holidays will sting. Life events will always haunt her as other girls have their mother for prom, wedding day or the birth of a child. The loss can be reborn in small but yet still painful ways via events.
Ultimately, the loss will always be tragic but the key is to help Kelly adjust to the loss in a healthy way and continue her life and share the love of her mother with others through memories and stories.
The same holds true for an older child. A teenage girl can suffer as well. The memories are stronger and more numerous as the child ages. There is more than just a faint memory of not having a “mother” at a life event, but the one visually sees their mother herself. The sting will be more current because the person is older. As a teenager, the loss of a parent can trigger also other multiple issues with drinking and other bad behaviors. Teens have a difficult time due to the many changes already occuring in their lives. The transition can be very difficult and a loss can totally send a life into a tail spin.
Take for instance Judy, who lost her mother at age 15. With high school, becoming a woman, and dating boys, the need of a mother figure and losing her can be devastating for Judy. Judy could possibly go into a deep depression if her emotional needs are not met. In addition, she may exhibit a different type of guilt. She may have fought with her mother or at times not appreciated all her mother did for her. This can create a stinging type of guilt in her soul.
In addition, she may become resentful to her mother for leaving her, or resentful to her father, especially if a few years later he dates. She could become very angry towards any attempts to have her mother replaced. Furthermore as she experiences more life events, the fresh face of her mother will haunt her more than Kelly, who at age ten may have only distant vague memories.
So we have a multitude of scenarios. We can experience the loss from the eyes of a 9 year old in Kelly, or even through the eyes of Judy a 15 yr old teen. Then others may never know their parents. Their mother or father may pass while they are babies and never have the experience to know their parents. The loss of never knowing or meeting their parent may exhibit a type of grief of never having or possessing them in their lives.
So while numerous scenarios can exist in the loss of a parent, there remains one universal loss. The loss of a parent is pivotal to the very existence of any child at any age. In some way, the loss of a parent takes away a fundamental element of growing up and becoming an adult. Even as an adult, the loss can still sting as adults mourn the lack of their parents in their own children’s lives.
While children and adult children will eventually adapt to life without their parent or parents, the loss still always haunts. It will never be the same but the love can still be remembered. Through memories, story telling and sharing, the life of a parent can still shine for others. Legacies can be pushed forward and shared. Values or ideals can be instilled in others. While the loss is forever, the bond and love between parent and child is forever–and that can never die.
The loss of a mother for a child alters the child’s life permanently. Grief Counseling and a strong family life is important for the child to cope and adapt to life without his or her mother.
The article, “Children Mourning the Loss of a Mom” by Mike McEnaney looks at the loss of a mother and the difficulties children have mourning the loss of their mother. How to deal with this type of loss is difficult but varies depending on the age. The article states,
“Grief takes on many forms, sometimes it’s sad and sometimes it can be powerful and lifechanging as well. For Aidan the spirit of his Mom is alive within him and that mutual love has been a force in his life. That love is in a lot of places if you take the time to look.”
Child grieving is unique and different than adult grieving. Child grief is multi dimensional based on the child’s age and maturity. Children grieve differently and understand reality and death and loss differently. Due to this, it is critical to discuss loss with children and expose them to the reality of it in a good way.
The article, “How to Help a Child Cope With Grief” by Jen Chesak looks deeper into how one can better discuss loss and grief with children. She states,
“Let’s be real. Grief is tough enough for adults — even though we understand that death is an inescapable part of life. The loss of a loved one is never easy, regardless of our age. That’s why when it comes to explaining grief to kids, we can get a big knot in our throat.”
To learn more about child grief and loss and to read the entire article, please click here
Children who lose a parent need guidance, counseling and care. The loss of a parent is a permanent loss that has life long implications for a child and it is important a child receives emotional support. Children need to learn how to adjust to life but also still be secure.
The article, “How To Help Children Handle Grief After The Death Of A Parent” by Kelsey Borresen states,
For bereaved children dealing with the loss of an important figure like a parent, these intense feelings can be particularly hard to process. Kids need their surviving parent, caregivers or the other trusted adults in their lives to help them navigate the murky waters of grief.
Explaining death to a toddler can be difficult. Children throughout their development require certain explanations about loss. Much of this is based on their understanding and comprehension of loss. Toddlers and their feelings still need addressed. They will notice the loss and need reassurance.
The article, “How To Explain Death To A Toddler, According To An Expert — Because It’s Just Part Of Life” by Jennifer Parris states,
“Forget about the birds and the bees. The talk that most parents dread having with their small children is the one about death. It’s an uncomfortable subject that many people don’t want to deal with, much less try to talk to a child about. I mean, how do you really explain death to a toddler? It’s a subject that none of us truly understands in the first place.”
Miscarriages can be very confusing for children expecting a baby brother or sister. Parents need to be able to explain the loss in a logical way to the child. How to go about explaining loss can be difficult but it needs to be done in a sensitive but informative way
The article, “How to Talk to Your Kid About Miscarriage” by Meghan Moravcik Walbert states,
“Despite how common miscarriage is, those who go through it often find it to be a painfully isolating experience. It frequently happens before the expectant mom or couple have told friends or family—or even their other children.”
Miscarriages happen in families and it is important to discuss with other children in the family. To read the entire article, please click here