Children’s Grief Awareness facts
Grief is the normal reaction to the loss of a parent through death or divorce. Unfortunately, children often blame themselves for that death or divorce.
Reassure your child often that they are not to blame in any way.
Children also have a natural fear that their remaining parent or another person close to them may die or leave them. They worry about who will take care of them.
Reassurance is in order based upon your child’s age.
Also be prepared for your child to reject your efforts to communicate or help. Your daughter may say she is fine or your son might ask you to leave him alone. Don’t give up. Keep talking with your child as often as he/she will permit it.
Children do not always understand the finality of death. Pre-school age children commonly associate death with a trip or journey. They may feel that the deceased person is away temporarily or is only sleeping. If they associate death with sleeping, they may fear going to sleep.
Listen to your child’s concerns without saying he/she is wrong to have these normal feelings. Then try to soothe his/her fears.
Children from age six to eight years of age seem more concerned about the process of death itself. They may ask if the dead person can read or eat or ask any number of seemingly foolish questions. Take the child seriously, answer the questions, and welcome more questions. What may seem silly to you is important to your child.
Preadolescent and adolescent children do understand that death is final. However, they don’t believe that they can die. Their grief may cause reckless or irresponsible actions.
Be available to talk without preaching. Point out the risky or irresponsible behavior and ask the child why he/she is behaving this way. Keep channels of communication open and non-judgmental.
Bereaved children often develop fantasy lives or fantasy reunions that concern their deceased or absent parent. They develop feelings that certain things go against a parent’s wishes even though they may be very much the wishes of the present parent. It is hard to deal with these “ghost” parents.
In addition, mutual children are the ties that bind parents together for life. Divorce does not sever this tie and the ensuing one-parent family is often strained for months or even years.
Taube Kaufman in her book The Combined Family writes, “When a marriage ends, by death or divorce, everything changes. Lives are disrupted; futures are in doubt. Those who survive the end of the two-parent family are forced to reassemble into one or two single-parent families. Time is needed for both adults and children to get their bearings.”
As you cope with loss and change in your life, there will be times when it will be hard for you to help your children cope, too. It is important for you to realize this is natural. Remember to be kind to yourself, also, and do not feel guilty if and when your patience wears thin.
Each person grieves alone. The grief process is bumpy and confusing. Each person makes his/her own separate and solitary journey down the twisting road of grief. There is no timetable for grief, for you or your children.
Parents and relatives of children suffering a loss should always watch for signs of abnormal grief. The following behaviors are cries for help:
Excessive fighting with others
Anger toward anyone and everyone
Lethargic or depressed
Talk of suicide or reunion with a dead parent.
Wanting to be alone excessively or running away
Frequent physical ailments
Lack of interest in activities the child did enjoy
Inability to accept a parent’s absence
Inability to relax
Rejecting family or friends
If the above systems are intense or persist for a long period of time, professional counseling may be needed.
Grief is a lifetime affair. Don’t think your children will “get over” a parent’s death or your divorce. They will probably have to come to terms with it again and again at different stages of their lives.
For example, a child of seven may accept his/her mother’s death when it happens. Later, he/she may have to reprocess grief because he/she does not have a mother to share the teen-age years or marriage or childbirth. A need to share the triumphs, the tragedies, and the milestones of life can bring grief to the forefront again.. Although that child may not realize or be able to express what is bothering him/her, actions and attitudes will indicate a possible reprocessing of death or divorce.
Elizabeth Neeld, Ph.D., interviewed dozens of people who lost someone close to them. In addition, she survived the death of her own husband. She says that grief involves a chaotic process.
She writes, “It’s not a straight line. You go back and forth through phases. At times it seems you have no direction, but it’s all headed toward integrating the experience, of making some sense of it. It’s not a matter of ‘getting over it.’ We don’t ever put the loss behind us or get over it. It becomes part of who we are for the rest of our lives, but not in a dominating way. The people I interviewed had integrated their losses into their lives and weren’t undone by them.”
Again, while you are going through your own grief and agony, you will have to be strong for your children.
How do you do this?
You are the only person to know. Dr. Neeld contends that everyone has to grieve in their own way. If they are normally quiet, they may be even quieter. Some become ill, some angry, some won’t even be able to move off the couch. Something profound has happened to you and your children and each of you will have your own way of responding.
Professional counseling is almost always needed, however, when the following behaviors are shown by a child:
Desire to die
Talk of a reunion with a dead parent
Running away from home
Inability to talk about the divorce or about the deceased parent