Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Guidelines for Helping Grieving Children

From Vitas Healthcare:
A hundred years ago death was much more a natural part of a child’s experience. Grandparents often lived with families, so children witnessed them growing older and dying. Modern medicine has made strides in reducing infant and child mortality and has prolonged life expectancy for the elderly, so children witness fewer deaths. More and more elderly die in nursing homes and hospitals, outside the home environment. The exclusion of death from children’s lives requires us to teach them explicitly about death and grief.

In Mourning and Melancholia, Sigmund Freud outlined his belief that young children did not have the capacity to mourn. He believed that only as a child developed into an adolescent did he/she acquire the ego capacity to grieve. More contemporary research has concluded that children do in fact have the capacity to experience and express grief, but it is often more intermittent and drawn out over a longer period of time than with adult grief.[i]

The grieving process helps people heal from their pain. Pain is a natural reaction when we lose someone close, and children are capable of accepting painful reality directly and openly. When adults try to protect children from the pain of loss, it is usually themselves they are trying to protect. The most important thing to remember in helping children cope with the death of a loved one is to allow them to express their grief in their own way and in their own time. It is important not to pressure children to resume their normal activities if they are not ready.

Children tend to have “grief bursts” followed by play and normal activities. Children may not be able to succinctly verbalize what they are feeling and instead may demonstrate their feelings through their behavior and play. They may laugh or play at a time that feels inappropriate to an adult. (Read more.)

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