Child Grief and Its Manifestations
Child grief manifests itself in many ways. The child and adolescent grief counselor can pinpoint these manifestations and help adults better understand what their child is feeling. If anyone is familiar with or has children, some of these manifestations may have been seen in a child you know. Here is a list of Dimensions of Child Grief to look for.
1. Shock or apparent lack of feeling. Children sometimes show no emotion and will simply ignore the obvious and go outside and play. This does not mean it does not affect the child and it should be not be treated with scorn or anger by an adult.
2. Physiological Changes. The child will have various physical maladies such as upset stomachs, soreness of throat, lack of energy, nervousness, loss of appetite, headaches and skin rashes. Some symptoms may even resemble the symptom that may have killed the loved one. These symptoms are result of the child’s body to stress.
3. Regression. Some children will regress after a death in the family. They will regress to baby talk, sleeping with parent, or become more dependent upon the parent. It is good to allow the child to regress and heal. One needs to be patient and supportive during this hard time.
4. Disorganization. When someone a child cares for dies, a wave of emotion and confusion sweep into the child’s life. If the person was a primary caregiver, thoughts of “who will care for me now” may enter into the child’s mind. Adults need to be there for the child and assure them that it is alright to be sad and that people will be there for them. During grief, before reorganization can occur, the disorganization must take place.
5. Explosive emotions. Children like adults will feel many emotions during grief. Encourage children to express their emotions in a healthy fashion.
6. Acting out. Some children will desire attention for their grief by acting out. This is especially true if the grief within the family dynamic is taught to be kept in. One needs to identify the underling reasons for the acting out and show discipline but also patience and understanding to the true cause of these actions.
7. Hyper-maturity. When adults mistakenly tell children to “grow up” and that they will have to take up responsbilities since “daddy is gone”, children then are denied the grieving process. The children can feel a responsbility to play the role of the parent that is dead.
8. Fear. This is a natural feeling for children who lose a loved one who may have cared for them. Identify the fears of the child and help him face them.
9. Guilt. There is sometimes guilt associated with a death in the minds of a child. Children have magicial thinking where if they thought something then they feel they may be guilty for it. An example of this would be if a little boy had a fight with his parents and wished they would go away. Later the parents die in a car crash and the little boy is faced with a guilt that makes him feel as if he caused them to go away. Obviously magical thinking needs addressed and the only way it can be addressed is when grief counselors talk to the child and discover what is bothering him.
10. Relief. Some children feel relief after a death. Egocentrism in childhood may find relief that grandma finally died so things can return to normal at home. Or some children may feel they have received very little attention since grandma became ill. Another type of relief is if the loved one was also abusive in which case the child has relief that the abusive parent is gone. Again, these things need addressed in counseling sessions before they become toxic.
11. Sadness. Some children are extremely sad. Grief counselors should help children express their sadness to begin the healing process.
12. Reconciliation. In this, the child comes to grips with the reality of death and has adapted his lifestyle to the loss. While grief is never an event but an ongoing process, the child has returned to normal levels of activity.
These elements of grief are important for grief counselors to identify to better treat children in grief.
If you are interested in child grief counseling and bereavement education, please review the program.
(Information for this article can be found in “Companioning the Grieving Child” by Alan Wolfelt, PhD)
Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C