Grieving children are traumatized children. The initial loss is exacerbated by their helplessness to understand or to change the situation. A grieving child, like an adult, may react with feeling sad, angry, anxious, numb, lonely, guilty, powerless, ashamed, insecure, and remorseful.
Changes in behavior may include lagging interest in usual activities both enjoyable and routine. Self-care may suffer. Aggression and irritability may increase. The child may regress to a more infantile developmental stage, reverting to bed-wetting or thumb-sucking. Sleeping and eating patterns may also change.
The child may withdraw from social interactions and become clingy. Attention and memory may suffer, affecting ability to complete home and school tasks.
The child may also sense the deceased person, seeing the person in a crowd, feeling their presence, hearing their voice, smelling their scent, or through vivid dreams.
The grieving child may be susceptible to illness, experience fatigue, or display changes in physiological arousal such as increased heart rate, breathing and startle response.
Providing Hope and Nurturing Healing
The first hope a caring adult can provide a child is the safety of adult understanding. Sharing your own feelings in a secure environment may teach the child that confusing feelings are part of the grieving process. Speak honestly but simply about death and loss.
Introduce small rituals such as naming the deceased in a prayer at meal or bedtime, lighting a candle at the dinner table to remember them, or displaying photos. Speak briefly of memories without forcing the child to respond.
Maintain routines. The routines of life provide security and promote well-being. Especially encourage routines of physical activities such as walking, bike-riding, Yoga, or sports.
Monitor and limit media and technology use, which may contribute to risky behaviors, to increased irritability, and to sleep disruption.
Gently maintain boundaries and limits on behaviors to provide for safety and for feelings of security. Adult boundaries signal to the child that life still has order and that adults are still responsible for keeping children safe.
Seek the help of a counselor who specializes in children if the child appears overwhelmed or frightened by grief, unable to enjoy daily life or relationships.
For more information visit www.nctsn.org Childhood Traumatic Grief
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