Mistakes Adults Make About Grieving Children
Adults make many mistakes about the nature of child grief. Maybe they are well intentioned mistakes or maybe the parent or adult merely cannot handle his or her own grief. Regardless, misconceptions about how to handle grief and children can lead to major problems down the road. Alan Wolfelt lists ten misconceptions about grief below.
1. Grief and Mourning are the same experience. The reality is mourning is the external expression of grief.
2. Children Grieve for only a short time. Grief is a process not an event and children will experience the grief due to the event over period of time that will emerge and submerge over and over again. One cannot force a child to grow up or get over something.
3. A child’s grief follows an orderly pattern. Childrens’ grief is unique to each child and can re-emerge through out certain periods of time as the child’s mental functions become more developed and are able to reflect on the death or sad thing. It is important to remember that children grieve in doses.
4. Infants and Toddlers are to young to mourn. In fact, when a primary caregiver is taken away, a child experiences grief and anxiety. Infants need held and loved when a primary caregiver dies.
5. Children will mourn regardless if their parents mourn or not. Actually, children and their grief patterns are based off imitation of their parents. They can develop healthy habits or bad habits from mom and dad.
6. Grieving children will grow up and become maladjusted adults. Grief is a natural experience. It is usually the opposite. Children who do not grieve properly usually face issues as adults.
7. Children are better off if they do not attend funeral. Children should attend funerals to understand death and be better able to say goodbye. They should be included in the ritual and informed of what is happening.
8. Children should not cry. Tears are a natural release for grief. Children should cry if they are sad. They should be allowed to be children. Crying has no long term negative affects on a child.
9. Children are too young to understand death and religious beliefs about death. Children need age appropriate care in explanation of death. One should also avoid confusing sayings but remain concrete in one’s explanation. Avoid symbolic language and be very concrete.
10. One should help children get over their grief. One does not get over grief. It is a life long process. Adults need to listen and companion the grieving the child not try to cure grief. If a child is old enough to love, he is old enough to grieve and needs someone to be there.
This is an important list in avoiding misconceptions when treating or talking to a grieving child.
If you are interested in grief of children, please review the program in child grief counseling.
(Information for this article can be found in “Companioning the Grieving Child” by Alan Wolfelt, PhD)
Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C