Growing up is an ongoing process of change that involves losses as well as gains. Changes such as starting childcare, school, sleeping over at a friend’s house, changing classes and teachers, or loosing a pet, a friend or a family member all bring new challenges and new learning.
Children do grieve and this can happen at an early age, but not in the same way that adults grieve. Children are likely to show their grief in less direct ways than adults. Children move in and out of grief. One day they will seem to be fine and another day they will be showing that they are not managing so well. Children often have more needs at times of loss which can lead to demanding behaviour as they try to get closeness, care, information, reassurance and support from adults. The experience of loss affects each child differently. The child’s age, emotional maturity, the circumstances of the loss and the “connectedness” with the person or whatever the child has lost are important factors. It is important to look at each child individually and work out what will best help that child.
Some of the losses for children are the same as for adults, for example:
- When a parent dies or goes away
- When parents separate or a family breakups
- Loss of a friend or friendship
- Loss of a pet
- Having a disability
- Loss of memories due to fire or flood
- Loss of culture and homeland when moving to a new country
- Death of a grandparent
- Moving house or changing schools
- Long periods of separation from a parent being in hospital
Other times children grieve for something that seems small to adults but is big for children e.g loosing their comforter.
These children experiencing grief may be challenged in recovery due to lacking the necessary life experience and coping skills. They may also lack the appropriate support network to work through their grief as their remaining parent or family members may be too grieved to be of assistance. Children are at risk for developing psychological difficulties that can manifest into psychiatric disorders when lacking coping skills. Therefore, it is critical for parents, teachers, pastors and other influential adults to recognize the risk factors associated with complicated or unresolved grief. It is also important to remember the child’s developmental age and stage when considering how to help. Some therapy techniques have been found helpful such as motivational interviewing, therapy that also includes a parent or guardian, group therapy and grief support groups. It is necessary for adults to develop open and honest lines of communication with the child, ensuring that he feels safe expressing how he feels.
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